(Copyright Image: DLC for Assassin’s Creed III. An Alternate History called The Tyranny of King Washington – 2012)
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Harmful ordinances spread like a disease, and there is no doubt that Thurston County has a staff infection.
On Tuesday, the Thurston County Commissioners decided to inflict more suffering and abuse on the rural residents of the county by passing a controversial code enforcement ordinance called Title 26. The final draft of the ordinance is linked here. The vote was not unanimous. Commissioner Bud Blake, who represents my county commission district voted against and spoke against the ordinance. However, lame duck Commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Commissioner Sandra Romero both voted in favor. Neither of these commissioners were moved by the pleas from the rural residents who spoke against this ordinance both at the public comment time on Tuesday and during previous public hearings on this ordinance.
The room was packed with citizens. Extra chairs were added. Due to fire code maximum occupancy requirements, many people had to wait in the hallway straining to hear the public testimony. While 15 minutes were allotted to the Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim to introduce the newest employee of Thurston County – a dog named “Marshal” complete with business cards and a Facebook page – the citizens were permitted only three minutes to speak (my testimony can be seen here and here, and some great testimony by local resident Michael Savoca here) and promptly ignored if they opposed the ordinance. In one case, when resident Jon Petit pointed out some process problems with the ordinance, the public testimony was abruptly halted, and staff attorney Elizabeth Petrich was used to discredit public testimony. This is Thurston County.
The night before, Commissioner Romero had issued an order to the Thurston County Democratic Party to fill the audience with anyone who would support the ordinance. Sandra Romero is a former Democratic legislator for the 22nd Legislative District, whose political career trajectory in the Washington State Legislature was changed by a drunk driving conviction for driving the wrong way on I-5 and attempting to elude police in the City of Olympia (the report is linked here). While the drunk driving ended her time in the legislature, she convinced Thurston County voters to give her a second political life as County Commissioner in 2008. In between political positions she served on the board of Futurewise (part of Gang Green) and helped facilitate their anti-prosperity lawsuit against Thurston County which cost the county over $1.5million in legal fees. Commissioner Romero has long been admired by the Thurston County Democratic Party for ruthlessly pushing destructive, innovative Central Planning schemes on the rural residents of Thurston County. At the Monday night meeting of the Thurston County Democratic Party, Sandra Romero’s orders for supporters to show up at Tuesday’s Commissioner Meeting were read and discussed. According to multiple people who attended that meeting, my name was brought up 5 times in anger for daring to oppose Romero’s schemes (I hope they invite me to the next one).
Following Romero’s directions, her followers who support these harmful and destructive regulations dutifully followed their marching instructions and testified at Tuesday’s meeting supporting Title 26. They were led by former Olympia mayor Bob Jacobs, the Thurston County League of Women Voters, and other tired, familiar faces from the city who are always reliable cheerleaders for aggressive regulation targeting their rural neighbors. Notable in attendance was also Commissioner candidate and current Olympia City Councilman Jim Cooper (also former campaign manager for Commissioner Wolfe). Cooper is a well-known cheerleader for harmful regulation like Title 26. Wisely, Cooper did not testify at this meeting.
Title 26 has been sold and promoted by county staff as a way to “consolidate” the current jumble of ordinances and code enforcement rules in Thurston County. Nobody disputes Thurston County’s current code enforcement process is confusing. Instead, the controversy with the ordinance is focused on two primary concerns. The first, is the invention of new civil penalties including daily penalties of $500 up to $15,000 in fines per incident (a financial windfall for the Central Planners). The second concern is the effort to over criminalize code infractions and
turn minor mistakes into criminal violations.
Related to these two primary concerns are several additional critiques, all of which have been brought to the attention of the Commissioners (and categorically ignored by staff and Commissioners Wolfe and Romero) on numerous occasions in the past. These include:
- A very undefined and vague definition of what constitutes
a code violation. The example of filling in a hole without a permit or damaging a “protected” tree could be considered a “major”
violation – according to planning staff (subject to a current fine ceiling of $15,000). This was exposed by staff, once again, under direct public questioning by Commissioner Blake at the hearing.
- Total discretion given to staff to define, enforce, and inflict suffering on the rural citizens of Thurston County. There is marginal oversight and nonexistent restrictions on staff. The rural residents of Thurston County will be punished and controlled with religious fervor. Enforcement staff are given free rein to punish the rural poor in any way they desire. There are never consequences for abusive staff except a promotion. A perfect job for petty tyrants, who are attracted to these types of jobs. The opportunity to abuse the citizens is obvious. For some Thurston County examples where staff already does this here, here, and here. This ordinance will make rural life worse and the victim list longer.
- The ordinance encourages future escalation of the fees, expansion of the already very vague definition of code infractions. It greatly increases the administrative legal abuse staff can inflict on rural residents. No serious observer doubts that “Resource Stewardship” (the euphemistic title for the Central Planning Department) will opportunistically escalate the fines, excuses, and “tools” they can utilize to force “compliance” to their will and central planning schemes. Staff openly gushed about the opportunity to collect revenue from the fines they could impose under this ordinance. Residents of Thurston County will be forced to heel, just like “Marshal” the County Dog employee introduced at the beginning of this meeting.
- Title 26 may prevent the ability of properties to be sold “as is.” This is probably illegal for various reasons, but after the $12 million Maytown jury verdict of 2014 against Thurston County, few observers believe the legal advice given, particularly from Elizabeth Petrich- is worth the taxpayer money wasted on the bloated legal staff’s salary. (Interestingly Petrich is married to an employee of the Department of Ecology – an agency legendary for gratuitous abuse of rural residents.) Commissioners Wolfe and Romero don’t care. It isn’t their money, freedom, or property being taken. They all live in the city anyway.
- The entire Title 26 exercise was invented by staff because two or three property owners in Thurston County (population 265,000) apparently had some hoarding problems. Thurston County staff could not force “compliance” on these handful of property owners using current threats of litigation. Punishment must be found. Hence Title 26 – a way to inflict real harm on all the rural peasants.
- Finally, Central Planning staff has sold the concept of using an administrative legal process which does not have to conform to basic evidentiary rules, or assumptions of innocence until proven guilty as a “benefit” to the citizens. In theory, staff reports that this will help “save the legal costs of going to court.” However, in practice it has become a way to ensure that proper legal due process is tilted against the property owner and by abusing the rural resident first at the hearing examiner, county staff can ensure that a proper legal hearing is never possible. Judges give undeserved deference to the administrative process, which always harms the citizen. This has become a well documented phenomenon across the nation. Property owners are starting to wake up to this abuse.
There are additional problems with Title 26, which eerily mirrors the Title 5 draft ordinance from nearby Kitsap County. The residents of Kitsap County were able to convince the Kitsap County Commissioners to temporarily shelf the bad idea, and one of the Kitsap Commissioners was replaced in 2014. In 2014, Thurston County voters also replaced Commissioner Valenzuela when Blake defeated her by a 9 point margin. Apparently, more electoral messages like this must be sent.
Big Government supporters (like the handful of Romero followers who dutifully spoke Tuesday in support of Title 26) wonder why people are disgusted by government. Tuesday is just one example. Title 26 will be a big deal to the future property owners who lose their dream and their future, one family and one home at a time. However, multiply this by the thousands of painful and destructive laws, rules, and ordinances passed every year by governments small and big. Add the waste, incompetence, government greed, and rapacious nature of bureaucracy experienced by most people. These are the building blocks for the road to serfdom, and even us apathetic peasants can start to get angry.
For people who don’t live in Thurston County, Title 26 should matter to you as well. Here is why:
Throughout the process of ordinance invention, staff predictably falls back on the “everyone else is doing it” mantra. Bad ideas and harmful ordinances spread like a disease, and there is no doubt that Thurston County has a staff infection. Other counties and cities have harmful, destructive, and abusive code enforcement processes. Therefore, according to the infected staff, so should Thurston County. The disease spreads. Each collection of staff in each jurisdiction competes to see who can grow their ordinance the longest, strongest, or most lucrative. It is always easier to justify poor behavior “because everyone else is doing it.” Don’t feel safe just because foolish Thurston County did something stupid, and you don’t live there. What happens here today will happen where you live soon.
Ultimately, we live in a Republic where we elect people to protect us from the abuse of government. Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake has indicated he cares about rural residents. Commissioner Wolfe and Romero do not. Neither Commissioner has ever cared about rural folk. Both Romero and Wolfe are serving their last terms as Commissioners. Both claim to be retiring at the end of this year.
In November the voters of Thurston County will elect two new people to replace them. We must choose Commissioners who not only will do the right thing in office and start putting people first for a change. They also must be prepared to repeal harmful ordinances like Title 26, and clean out the staff infection in Thurston County.
For more Background on the trials and tribulations of the citizens of Thurston County who have suffered under the County Commissioners:
Misty Chastain – A video of how Thurston County tried to destroy her livlihood
Donna Baker – Thurston County causes her to lose her home.