Public debate about government often happens at the level of policy and philosophy whereas the impact of government, particularly at the local level, usually plays out in more mundane terms.
And that's where it matters most.
This rule applies vividly to land-use issues, which we have in abundance in Fayette County.
Visions for a better community can inspire ordinances for preserving neighborhoods, historic districts or rural land but they don't mean much if our government looks the other way or drags its feet when it comes to enforcing those laws.
Mayor Jim Gray's administration seems to understand this.
Recently, the law department has taken action in court against one of the many property owners who would rather pay small fines than repair neglected houses that are a blight on neighborhoods.
At the same time, the planning department has beefed up zoning enforcement, taking on the unauthorized quarry operated by the Con Robinson Contracting Co. for over a decade and this week the zip line Burgess Carey built on his property in southern Fayette County, despite the fact that his request to build it was turned down last year by the Board of Adjustment.
Good for the unheralded bureaucrats — the planners, the zoning enforcement officers, the city attornies and the administration leaders who back them up — for enforcing the rules.
Some will look at this as just another example of government squashing private rights. But few things so clearly represent the will of the community as our decisions about land use.
For decades, citizens of Lexington and Fayette County have energetically engaged in debates about every aspect of our zoning laws. Candidates running for council are regularly grilled about their positions on land use, code enforcement and neighborhood preservation.
So when these laws are ignored or flouted and nothing happens, government is simply not doing its job.
That creates a lot of problems, but the absolute worst is that people who obey the laws — who apply for building permits, respect the zoning laws, wait until they get approval to begin construction — begin to wonder why they even bother.