FACT SHEETS SHORT ON FACTS
PART 1 of 2
by Margaret Goodwin
October 10, 2013
Josephine County, Oregon. —The County has published “fact sheets” for the four ordinances that have been referred to the voters as ballot measures in the November election. It’s important for the voters to understand that these fact sheets do not provide objective and impartial information, but are actually promotional materials for the ballot measures.
The fact sheets published by the County include only those facts that would support a vote in favor of the new ordinances, and omit all the facts that make these ordinances so controversial, and that motivated the citizens to petition for a referendum. Furthermore, some of the “facts” in the County’s fact sheet are not actually true and are misleading to the voters.
Please feel free to verify all of the facts in this article by looking up the referenced sections in the actual ordinances, which are posted on the County’s Web site.
FACT SHEET on Solid Waste and Nuisance Abatement Ordinance
With respect to the County’s fact sheet on Solid Waste and Nuisance Abatement Ordinance, there are a number of significant differences between the current ordinance, which would be repealed by Measure 17-53, and the new ordinance, which would be enacted by Measure 17-53, that the County’s fact sheet either omits or misstates.
Under the heading “Cleanup by County,” the fact sheet states:
"Under both the new ordinance and the old ordinance, if the solid waste is a threat to the health and safety of the public, then the County can clean up the property and charge the costs of the cleanup to the property owner."
The County’s fact sheet fails to mention that the County can do that even if there is no threat to public health or safety. Under Section 11.3 of the proposed new ordinance, if the property owner doesn’t abate the nuisance or appeal the abatement notice within the time specified in the notice, the property owner forfeits their right to a hearing and the County can direct County personnel to enter on the property and summarily abate the nuisance, charging the property owner for the cost.
Under the existing ordinance, the county can only do that after a hearing has been held, a decision has been rendered, and the property owner has failed to comply with the decision. Under both ordinances, the County has the power to enforce the ordinance if the property owner refuses to comply, but there is more protection for the property owner under the existing ordinance than under the proposed new ordinance.
Under the heading “Definition of Solid Waste,” the fact sheet states:
"Having tall grass or manure on property would not, by itself, be a violation of the Solid Waste Ordinance; the solid waste must be hazardous to the public."
This is not true. According to Section 6.1, "No person shall maintain or allow to exist on any property the following.... B. Any accumulation, collection, or storage of solid waste that is offensive OR hazardous to the health and safety of the public." If anybody (whether a neighbor or someone who simply doesn’t like you) finds your tall grass or manure offensive, they can file a complaint, and an Enforcement Officer will issue a citation. The ordinance does not requie a violation to be hazardous to the public as long as somebody finds it offensive.
Also, the definition of Solid Waste, under Section 3.19 of the proposed new ordinance, specifically includes manure. So this “fact” published in the County’s fact sheet is doubly misleading.
Under the heading “Signed, Written Complaint,” the County’s fact sheet states:
"The old Ordinance required three signed, written complaints from adults living within a 1/2 mile radius before investigating certain conditions that were 'Visible from a Public Road.'”
It’s true that, under the existing ordinance (Section 5.20), where there is no threat to public health or safety, "A sight screening fence is deemed an acceptable method for complying with this section.” The fact sheet fails to point out that, under the proposed new ordinance, visual screening is not an acceptable remedy, even where there is no threat to health or safety. This protection for the rights of the property owner has been eliminated from the proposed new ordinance.
Under the heading “Hearings Officer,” the fact sheet states:
"A person's rights at the hearing are the same under both ordinances."
Actually, they are not the same. To begin with, according to Section 12.1.B of the new ordinance, if the accused doesn’t appeal the notice of violation within ten days, they forfeit their right to a hearing, and are presumed guilty. Under the existing ordinance the accused doesn’t have to file an appeal to be granted a hearing.
Under the existing ordinance, Section 8.020(C) says the accused has “the right to present real and documentary evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and present oral argument” at the hearing. Under the new ordinance, Section 12.4 states “Only those matters specifically raised in writing in the appeal will be considered at the hearing.” Regardless of the legitimacy of any further evidence or data, it will not be allowed if it wasn’t included in the written appeal of the notice of violation. This arbitrary restriction excludes legitimate evidence and testimony that support the defendant’s case.
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The County’s fact sheet also neglects to mention that, under Section 13.1.D of the proposed new ordinance, if the property owner fails to comply with an order of the hearings officer within the time specified, they are subject to a fine of $2,500 and a year in jail. Under the existing ordinance, the maximum fine for a violation is $500.
For analysis of the County’s Fact Sheets on the other three ordinances that were referred to the voters in the coming election, please click on Part 2 below.