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Regulation is why corruption happens

Mayor Catherine Pugh's comments on corner stores as potential crime hubs, from a recent discussion with the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun video)

I think your editorial regarding ethics in Baltimore doesn't quite get at the root of the problem of how private interests capture city government (“Don’t exempt Mayor Pugh from fundraising rules,” May 17). A throwaway remark reveals the answer: "Developer Pat Turner, who bought $1,000 worth of gift cards for Ms. Dixon, most of which she spent on herself and her family, testified at her trial that people in his line of work are utterly dependent on city approvals, without which they would go bankrupt."

You recognize the potential for corruption in such a situation where private developers depend on city government approvals for their business but don't recognize the obvious solution: don't make private developers depend on city approvals! In a system where you force private businesses to come to the government, cap in hand, to beg for favors, you are creating the perfect conditions for corruption. What should happen is that private developers have free rein to buy and develop what they can without needing to seek prior approval.

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The government's job should only be to deal with any developments that impose clear harms or nuisances on neighboring properties. For instance, instead of forcing Mr. Turner to bribe Mayor Dixon with gift cards in order to get his development approved, he should simply have been able to proceed with the development as soon as he bought the property. If the development ended up creating a harm or nuisance and can't come to a settlement with the neighbors, let those who are affected ask the government to step in and impose a solution.

Giving private developers the benefit of the doubt will drastically reduce the opportunities for bribery and corruption. The city government needs to stop acting like it actually owns the city and instead leave its people alone to do business among themselves as seems best to them, intervening only where individual residents and neighborhoods cannot work things out for themselves.

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Jonathan Gress-Wright, Baltimore

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