Center for Limited Government Newsletter – March 10, 2011


By Edward N. Robinson

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on February 9, 2011, about a Salt Lake Planning Commission decision to deny Wal-Mart’s request for a rezone and master-plan amendment to allow it to build a smaller-than-average supercenter in place of an empty Kmart that is currently on the property.

According to the article, Wal-Mart has the right to remodel the existing building but needs permission to raze it and build the new store. The commission voted 6-1 to deny the request. A couple of points struck me as worth comment. Let’s start with what one commissioner said.

Commissioner Kathleen Hill said Utah’s capital is too progressive to embrace a “suburban” model of development that has “undermined” neighborhoods across the country for the past 50 years. She warned Wal-Mart not to be offended, then continued: “The developers make a big mistake in thinking they can do whatever they want with a piece of land. The land really belongs to the people. That community does not want a big box.”

I know nothing about Salt Lake’s planning process, but I assume that the electorate has given the Planning Commission the right to establish both a master plan and zoning rules to go with it. I’ll also assume that the commission had the right to deny Wal-Mart’s request if it didn’t fit with the master plan and the zoning and if the commission decided that it wasn’t worthy of an exception. I say this because these appear to be powers that the electorate has given to the Planning Commission either directly or through its election of the Salt Lake City government. (We’ll leave for another day the discussion of how much “planning” is good for a community.)

But what about the attitudes that are governing at least one commissioner’s approach to her job? I don’t care if an individual likes Wal-Mart or not, but I do care when a public official talks about Wal-Mart’s presence undermining neighborhoods as though that’s a given truth. A Wal-Mart offers people, especially lower-income people, a wide choice of reliable merchandise at very low prices – usually more merchandise and at lower prices than would exist in the absence of a Wal-Mart. The fact that the presence of a Wal-Mart might drive out of business a smaller, more expensive merchant is not a bad thing; it simply reflects a free choice by individuals as to where and how they want to buy. And many small stores survive in spite of a nearby Wal-Mart by offering items of better quality, better service, different merchandise, etc.

And Wal-Mart also offers employment to people in the “neighborhood.” Those jobs are eagerly sought almost everywhere Wal-Mart opens. One would think that offering employment would be seen as a good thing by a public official.

Again, this is not to say that any individual must like Wal-Mart, or prefer it over a smaller merchant, or think that it has the perfect business and employment model. It is merely to say that the fact that it is widely patronized and employs lots of people means that many members of our community vote with their feet in a very positive way when they have the chance to shop at or be employed by a Wal-Mart. To refer to these positive attributes as “undermining” a neighborhood is to tell only a small part of the story.

But the commissioner goes even further in the wrong direction. Her anti-Wal-Mart position at least has some facts to support it, even if it’s not balanced. Her contention that “the land belongs to the people” is totally without support, and it makes her much more of a commissar than a commissioner. I’ll bet the “people” don’t pay the taxes on the land, don’t take the risk of its value going down or up, and won’t take the chance of opening a new business there and employing people in hopes of providing a useful service and achieving success.

Our whole system is built on the premise of letting individuals take risk and get either the rewards of success or the burdens of failure. We give power to our governments to put reasonable limitations on individual freedom in the hopes of bettering life in the community (thus the allowance of things like master plans and zoning), but that doesn’t make the government (or “the people”) the owners of private property, or give it the right to do anything regarding private property other than what the electorate has allowed it to do through the passage of laws.

Let’s hope that Commissioner Hill just got a little carried away with her verbiage and understands what her role really is – and how important the merchants and employers of our country really are to “the people,” even though she must also consider other issues.

The author, Edward N. Robinson, has been a financial adviser to corporations, a senior executive, and a management consultant. Prior to retiring in 2006, he operated Robinson Partners, consulting CEOs on corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions. Before that, he was an executive vice president of Texas Commerce Bank (later Chase Bank of Texas and now JPMorgan Chase), where he ran the investment banking business, and then created and ran The Private Bank; was an executive director at Azurix, an international water utility business, responsible for corporate strategy and M&A; and was a managing director at First Boston (now Credit Suisse), running the firm’s Los Angeles office and the regional M&A practice. Mr. Robinson has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.


2.Sutherland Is Hiring

Sutherland is seeking to hire a manager of donor relations and a multimedia reporter.

Manager of Donor Relations

Sutherland Institute seeks a manager of donor relations to reach out to our growing network of supporters across the nation. This role will report to the director of development.

The manager of donor relations will:

•Work closely with the director of development and senior leadership team to implement an integrated fundraising strategy, including individual, foundation and corporate supporters
•Identify and develop long-term relationships with existing supporters and key prospects
•Solicit current and prospective donors for financial support for SI
•Interact with donors through telephone calls, one-on-one visits, and written correspondence to keep them informed of our work
•Utilize fundraising database to ensure current data on donors, gifts, and prospects
•Track progress and analyze results

The ideal candidate will have the following attributes:

•Entrepreneurial spirit and ability to be a self-starter
•One to three years of experience in fundraising
•Experience interacting with individual donors preferred, but not required
•Notable relationship building skills and an outgoing, friendly personality
•Excellent communication skills, in particular, writing skills
•Ability to multi-task, organize numerous moving parts of a project, and meet deadlines
•Deep understanding of and commitment to the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility
•Experience with databases and basic Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook
•Ability to travel on a regular basis
•Bachelor’s degree

This position will require travel throughout Utah. Expected travel: up to 60 percent at times. This is a full-time position with a full benefits package.

Interested candidates should submit a résumé and a cover letter that details their philosophical interest in the organization’s mission to Sutherland Institute at The cover letter should include salary preferences.

Multimedia Reporter

Sutherland Institute seeks a full-time multimedia reporter to use video journalism to create easy-to-understand, brief and interesting policy reports. This role will report to Sutherland’s director of communications.

Sutherland’s objective is to use video journalism to educate Utahns about how state and local governments affect their lives.

Preferred Attributes

•Journalistic instincts; ability to identify and develop good stories
•Strong work ethic
•Knowledge of video equipment and editing software
•Good writing skills and the ability to create a compelling story
•Mature interpersonal communications skills
•Ability to multitask, organize numerous moving parts of a project, and meet deadlines
•Deep understanding of and commitment to conservative principles and solutions
•Bachelor’s degree

This is an entry-level, full-time position with a full benefits package.

Interested candidates should submit a résumé and a cover letter that details their philosophical interest in the organization’s mission to Sutherland Institute at The cover letter should include salary preferences.


3.The Media and Your Family

You are invited to our upcoming Utah Women’s Symposium: “The Media and Your Family,” where we will discuss practical tools for safe media management in the home.

Date: Thursday, March 24, 2011

Time: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Location: The Garden Room
at Thanksgiving Point

Cost: $25, which includes lunch and a toolkit

If you have questions, contact Lisa Montgomery at 801-355-1272