This I Believe
I believe in being reluctant to make rules. As a Building Official, part of my job is to enforce and sometimes help develop the building codes, fire codes and other regulations that apply to our built environment. Another part of my job is to examine failures that involve injury and death. When a tragedy happens it’s almost a knee jerk reaction to fill the void or plug the hole with a new regulation. It’s easy to propose a rule that goes a little beyond what just happened because I am close to the incident and can see opportunities to address similar potential problems. But almost every rule or regulation has a cost. It can be monetary or time or just the fact that someone has to learn and follow another regulation or provide more information. Trying to address every possible scenario is like trying to fill a black hole. The volumes of regulations I use get bigger and bigger and as they grow, the rules and procedures seem to be more about having a good procedure for my office or being prepared for litigation and less about getting things built.
My wife is from another country and when she came to the U. S., I told her about my job and the rules and regulation I deal with for safety, accessibility, building, wetlands and many others When she said , most sincerely “ you are not free here, you have regulations for everything” it rang true. One of the costs of being protected is the incremental and mostly unintentional erosion of freedom and the increasing burden of regulation and process. I’ve come to realize that educating and being educated while requiring results within a broad framework is best. It has become apparent that I have to make my job more difficult in the short term with a perceived higher risk in order to make my life and other people’s lives better in the long run.
I see and understand the need and value of regulation, but I am so reluctant and diligent when creating new rules and regulations. As a Building Official, it is my responsibility to regulate and at the same time it is my responsibility as a citizen who values our heritage of self reliance and freedom, not to dictate. As I mature in my job and place in society, I realize how important being uncomfortable, reluctant and uneasy about regulation is. How important it is to regulate in a way that allows people to do more and take responsibility. It is too easy to put on the blinders of righteousness, fear, cynicism, self interest or most destructive, ego and create a new rule because I have the knowledge, I can, and it makes me feel more secure in my job.