So what if they said it’s illegal? ? That doesn’t have to stop a great local project

“Every one of your Innovative Rural Business Models is illegal!” 

That was the code enforcement guy at a recent event I spoke at. I just agreed. Yes, sure they are in some towns or in some circumstances. But so what? 

Don’t let a law or rule stop a great project for your community. 

The code enforcement guy went on to talk for an hour about how different outdated rules and codes hold small towns back and how they can adopt new ones. 

We adopt rules so we can have a great community. When they no longer serve that, they can and should be changed. 

If a past council could adopt a rule, the current council can change it.

What can you do if you’ve been told your great project idea is illegal? Here are 4 practical steps you can use right away: 

1. Ignore the rules. Do it anyway.
This is the “so what?” approach. So what can they do to you? Probably not much. We all know examples of other people doing other things that are against the rules in our towns. They manage to do it, so surely we are at least as wily. 

2. Read carefully to find a legal alternative.
This is my favorite way to deal with cries of “illegal!”

Lots of towns have old “no selling on the streets” rules. Fine. We’ll sell on the sidewalk, a parking lot, an empty lot or in an empty building. 

Or maybe we won’t “sell” at all. Maybe we’ll give things away for free, maybe get a sponsor to donate so it can all be free. Maybe we’ll turn it into a public art performance, not a business. There’s no rule against public art! 

3. Do it anyway and pay the fine. 
Big secret: lots of small town fines are actually quite small. If that’s the case, why not go ahead and pay it?

In fact, maybe you can’t find support to change a law or rule, but you can get support to change the fine to a pittance. Sort of a quiet agreement to allow cool projects like yours to happen.  

4. Change the rules.
It takes time, of course, and you’ll need a lot of support. But if you use one of the other tactics to build a record of success, then you’re in a stronger position to ask for change.

The code enforcement guy pointed out your councils of government and municipal leagues can play a key role in sharing example ordinances and leading discussion across geographic boundaries. 

Have you been told your cool idea was illegal, but you still found a way to do it? I’d love to hear more. (You can change names and details to protect the innocent!) 
Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS –  Thanks for reading and for being part of our little community. We’re all in this together; we’re just in different towns.