Port: North Dakota cities are using un-American policies to regulate property owners

Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. -- “No taxation without representation.”

That slogan was a rallying cry of the American revolutionaries who had tired of complying with the taxes and regulations of the British parliament while having no representation in that legislative body.

The sentiment ultimately found its way into the Declaration of Independence, which states that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Government, absent the opportunity for participation from the governed, is unjust.

We may not always like what our government does, in terms of policy, but at least we always have a say in it with our votes and other forms of civic involvement.

But what if government you could not vote for had the power to tax you and regulate your property? It would be a violation of these founding principles of our nation, would it not?

Yet it’s happening. Right here in North Dakota.

Patti Eisenzimmer is a resident of rural Minot. She has property just outside the city’s limits, but within what’s called the extraterritorial zoning area.

Extraterritorial zoning is a part of state law which allows city governments to apply their zoning regulations to areas miles outside of their jurisdiction. In Eisenzimmer’s case, the city is charging her double for building permits compared to what property owners in the city have to pay.

Eisenzimmer, understandably upset by this situation, took her case to the city council, but they upheld the double charge for her permits according to the Minot Daily News.

Why wouldn’t they? It’s more revenue for the city, and it’s not like Eisenzimmer or her neighbors can vote the councilors out of office.

Worse still is the city’s justification for these doubled permit fees. City Manager Tom Barry told Eisenzimmer the intent of the policy, in part, is to “discourage sprawl.”

Consider that for a moment.

The government of a city Eisenzimmer does not live in, led by politicians she cannot legally vote for or against, has decided to implement policy for the express purpose of making it more difficult to develop or improve her property.

It may well be that discouraging sprawl out the outskirts of Minot is a sound policy choice, but it is unconscionable to pursue that goal at the expense of people who are being governed without their consent.

While Eisenzimmer’s situation is particularly egregious, Minot is hardly the only city government using extraterritorial zoning powers.

A similar fight in Bismarck prompted state Senator Nicole Poolman, a Bismarck area Republican, to introduce SB2086 during the 2017 legislative session which would, if passed, have given citizens in extraterritorial zones some say in city government.

It failed, unfortunately, getting just four votes in the Senate chamber.

Let’s hope the Legislature takes this issue up again in their session next year.

Because governing citizens without their consent is more than just wrong. It’s downright un-American.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.