Recently, a city mayor declared that he wanted to broadcast “bird songs” on the streets of his city. The rationale? Bird chirping makes people happy.

Never mind the fact that I personally think bird chirping is the most annoying sound on the planet, I nonetheless stopped to wonder, is this really what our cities should be worrying about?

Right now in Kansas, city council and school board candidates are ramping up their campaigns for our April elections, and we’re getting ready to hold our third candidate training specifically for them. Sometimes I get questions about why the local level is important- and it’s stories like these that illustrate why.

There are a few key questions any elected official should ask themselves when faced with a proposal, such as broadcasting bird chirping:

First: Is this something we have the authority to do? I strongly believe in federalism, the notion that local entities can make better decisions than federal entities, but that still doesn’t authorize local governments to legislate outside of their jurisdiction. In this case though, I would say, sure, there’s nothing in the state or national constitution that expressly forbids the city of Lancaster, CA from broadcasting bird chirping. It might ruffle a few feathers (sorry, I had to go there), but it’s not directly unconstitutional.

Second: Is this something that we should do? Meaning, will the benefits this entails outweigh the costs to do it. I couldn’t find any estimates of what it would cost the city to erect speakers from which to broadcast the bird song, but I can’t imagine that the benefits could outweigh the cost. Which brings to point, what are the benefits? According to the mayor, increasing the people’s happiness. How interesting. Our Declaration of Independence says that one of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness – that means that I get to choose what my happiness is, and how to pursue it. It does not mean that government is responsible for giving me happiness.

Third: Is this something we can do best? Often times governments take on ideas or projects that a private entity could do better. I have to think that if this bird-brained scheme were really a bright idea, wouldn’t private charities and enterprises take it up?

Several months ago, I wrote about Bell, California, where the city manager was making nearly double the salary of President Obama, and the council members were also making off with salaries of $100,000 per year. While both this story, and the story of the bird-chirping mayoral proposal take place in California, I can’t help but think that this problem isn’t localized to that state only. We all ought to be monitoring our local governments to know what they’re doing and how they’re representing us.