March 2008

Demanding Accountability

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Jackson County
Creates Code Enforcement Nightmare

Curt Chancler &
Jeanne Wollman

Jackson County, OR - In counties all over Oregon families and businesses are under attack. These attacks are not happening in the black of night but in the brightest light of day. Many of the victims of these attacks describe their attacker as openly “arrogant, verbally abusive, and with a Hitler-like mentality”.

These agents of the government hold no allegiance to our Constitution or to the rights it guarantees. They have an openly “imperial attitude” toward the very people who pay their salary.

The Jackson County Planning Department has code enforcers who fit the above description to a “T”. They do not need a citizen complaint to begin the process as they regularly prowl the county looking for infractions. They begin with a citation stating that the victim has violated a government code of some sort. The citizen has only a limited time to respond and for most it is like being sucked into a whirlpool.

An example is the situation of Brett and Pauline Laudenslager in Jackson County, Oregon. They are located about five miles from Medford in a quiet, rural residential area. They had purchased their home and adjacent shop in November, 1993. Brett opened their business about six months later while Pauline worked in a local bank. From the beginning they worked hard to build and maintain a clean and well-maintained property and business. When Pauline took medical leave from her work, they knew they could manage with their home business.

On September 25, 2006 Brett and Pauline received a Code Violation Notice. Brett called Lisa Davis the issuing code enforcer. She told Brett that she had been in the area and recognized the house and that she was related by marriage to the previous owners. She even complimented Brett on the great job that he and Pauline had done fixing and cleaning up their property. Then in the same breath she told Brett that even though his business was over five miles from town and in a rural residential setting, he would have to relocate his business. The couple felt this could not be happening. After being in business at this location for thirteen years there surely had to be a reasonable answer to this situation.

On October 12, 2006 we met with Mr. Ken Skyles, an agent for the County, to inquire about the permitting process. Mr. Skyles immediately informed us that for the County to even consider his request or to begin the process for a home occupation business permit Brett would need to give the department a nonrefundable check for $868.

Skyles warned Brett that he planned to recommend the County deny Brett’s request for the permit. At this point it was apparent that if we did not leave there was going to be a close encounter of the worst kind! Later Brett and Pauline filled out the Type 2 application and paid the $868 which covered an administrative hearing. Their permit was denied after that hearing.

Then on June 29, 2007 Code Enforcer Lisa Davis sent a notice stating their business may qualify for an occupation home business permit. However, a completed application must be submitted prior to July 13, 2007 or they must shut down their business and have the closure verified by Code Enforcement Officer Davis.

The next move was to contact County Commissioner C.W. Smith for help. We told Commissioner Smith of the un-provoked attack on the Laudenslager’s family business. We gave Commissioner Smith the same information we submitted to the planning department. Brett’s defense was simple—he felt he had a Constitutional right to life, liberty and the right to earn a living through commerce on his property.

Brett knew his rights ended where his neighbor’s rights began and he and Pauline had worked hard to respect those rights. Brett felt if he kept their home and business clean, quiet and traffic to a minimum that he was within his rights to do business in his neighborhood. In the thirteen years he had been there, there had been no complaints to either him or the County concerning his business or his property. Commissioner Smith said he was sure it was not the intent of the State of Oregon or Jackson County to put Brett out of business and he would look into the problem. At present Brett’s plea to Commissioner Smith has gone unanswered.

It would appear that government believes a citizen has no property rights. They do not exist other than those decreed by government. The only thing this family can do is to continue through the process and hope they can survive it.

In researching this story a great deal of time was spent finding out how the people in their neighborhood felt about Pauline and Brett Laudenslager. It would appear that they have been an asset to the community and their business is more of a public service than a public nuisance. Pauline and Brett’s closest neighbor William Garner said it best, “This kind of a thing can only happen when government is working at its worst.”

This fine man and woman’s only fault is in living the American Dream—you remember, the one our Constitution guarantees. Their only crime was that they did not know permits for that dream were required. Shame on you, Jackson County. Shame on you.

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