FACT SHEETS SHORT ON FACTS
PART 2 of 2
by Margaret Goodwin
October 10, 2013
Josephine County, Oregon. —As noted in County Fact Sheets Short on Facts, Part 1, the “fact sheets” on the four ordinances referred to the voters in the coming election are actually promotional materials in support of these ordinances. This article presents facts on the Code Enforcement, Hearings Officer, and Environmental Health Enforcement Ordinances that an informed voter needs to know about, which were omitted from the County’s fact sheets.
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 Code Enforcement Ordinance
The County’s fact sheet on the Code Enforcement Ordinance makes it very clear that this ordinance is all about enforcing Planning Code violations, not solid waste or nuisance violations. That is a point well worth noting, as all four of these ordinances have, until recently, been presented as “nuisance ordinances.”
Under the heading “Planning Department,” the fact sheet states:
“The current enforcement policy of the Josephine County Planning Department requires that only one written or agency complaint be submitted before the County can investigate an alleged violation of planning ordinances.”
It fails to mention that, under the proposed new ordinance, 2013-003 Section 8.3.K, the only complaint required is the one filed by the Enforcement Officer issuing the citation. This empowers Enforcement Officers to seek out and cite Planning Code violations on their own initiative.
Under the heading “Fines,” the fact sheet fails to mention that Section 18.8.B of the proposed new ordinance says “Fines recovered shall be paid to the Department which issued the citation.” This provides a very real financial incentive for Enforcement Officers to seek out and cite violations as a means of funding their departments.
The fact sheet also fails to mention that Section 18.6 of the proposed new ordinance, if any profit should result through any violation, instead of sentencing the property owner to pay the fine, the property owner may be sentenced to pay up to twice the value of the property on which the violation occurred! That’s an extreme and draconian penalty that is without precedent in the existing ordinance.
Another point the fact sheet omits is that Section 18.10 of the proposed new ordinance states that “Any condition caused or permitted to exist in violation of any provision or any County ordinance, code, rule, regulation, order, or law, shall be deemed to be a public nuisance and may be abated by the County as provided by law.” Under the proposed new Solid Waste and Nuisance Ordinance, that means, if the alleged violation is not appealed or abated in the time specified, the County is authorized to direct its own personnel to abate it, or hire a contractor to do so, and charge the property owner for costs of abatement. As an example, abatement of a Planning Code violation might entail the demolition and removal of an unpermitted structure from the owner’s property.
FACT SHEET on Hearings Officer Ordinance
The main argument against the Hearings Officer Ordinance, which the fact sheet does not address at all, is that the Hearings Officers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Board of County Commissioners, while adjudicating cases in which the County itself is the litigant. How can a Hearings Officer be truly impartial when they are being paid by one of the parties to the case, and their continued employment depends on the satisfaction of that party?
Under the heading “Appointment and Duties,” the fact sheet neglects to mention that there is no requirement for a Hearings Officer to have any legal training or experience. The fact sheet also fails to mention that Section 5.3 of the proposed new ordinance grants a Hearings Officer the authority to impose both civil and criminal penalties. Many people are not comfortable with the idea that someone with no legal training or experience is empowered to impose criminal penalties on their fellow citizens.
Under the heading “Rights at Hearing,” the fact sheet says the person accused has the right to question witnesses and present evidence on all relevant issues. However it does not mention that Section 16.1 of the proposed new ordinance says “Hearings need not be conducted according to the technical rules relating to evidence and witnesses.” That means the accused does not have the same protections they would have in a Court of Law.
Another provision of the Hearings Officer Ordinance that is not addressed in the fact sheet is that Section 6.1 of the proposed new ordinance authorizes not just one Hearings Officer, but a whole panel of Hearings Officers to be managed by a Chief Hearings Officer. When we can only afford one single patrol deputy for the entire County, how can we afford to hire a whole panel of Hearings Officers?
FACT SHEET on Environmental Health Enforcement Ordinance
The only significant omission in the Environmental Health Enforcement Ordinance Fact Sheet is that, just like the Code Enforcement Ordinance, Section 6 of the proposed Environmental Health Enforcement Ordinance declares any violation a public nuisance that may be abated in any manner provided by law.
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While the fact sheet does not omit the fact that domestic wells are included in the list of facilities that will fall under the scope of the new Code Enforcement and Hearings Officer Ordinances, if passed, it is worth calling special attention to this fact. This is probably the most controversial provision of this ordinance because it authorizes local Enforcement Officers to inspect your private well.
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 1 below.