COMMISSIONER CHERRYL WALKER EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU
by Margaret Goodwin
October 2, 2013
Josephine County, Oregon. —The final item on the agenda at the September 18 Weekly Business Session of the Josephine County Commissioners was a presentation by Commissioner Cherryl Walker on the four ordinances that had been referred to the voters by referendum petition. However, Board of County Commissioners Chair Simon Hare moved to table her presentation until such time as the citizens opposing the ordinances could be given an opportunity to present their side of the issue. Commissioner Walker objected, saying it was simply a presentation of the facts, so there was no need to give the other side equal time. Nevertheless, the other two Commissioners voted 2:1 to table it.
Chairman Hare was not present at the next Administrative meeting, and Commissioner Walker apparently convinced Commissioner Keith Heck to put the presentation back on the agenda for the next Weekly Business Session. They placed it at the beginning of the agenda, before the Comments from Citizens, to address the issue of giving the other side a chance to speak.
Listening to Commissioner Walker’s presentation at the September 25 Weekly Business Session, one might well wonder what all the fuss is about. It would be difficult to find anything in the facts presented that could possibly give rise to the heated controversy these ordinances have engendered.
The controversy, however, arises from facts that Commissioner Walker didn’t include in her presentation. For more information on the facts she omitted, please see the four-part series of articles on County Government vs. Citizens.
What Are These Ordinances Really About?
Early in the presentation, Commissioner Walker explained “So what we have done is to take the Ordinance 90-16 and split out the different components of that, and come up with the four different ordinances that we have here today, so they can be clearer to the public as to whether or not they are in compliance and how our Enforcement Officers can enforce those.” Later in the presentation, she reiterated “As I said, we removed these ordinances from the current ordinance, which is the old Ordinance 90-16, as an all-encompassing. When you have an all-encompassing ordinance such as this, there are a lot of things that cross over and sometimes become mixed up. So by separating them out, people know exactly what ordinance it comes under and what remedies they have in regards to a hearing.”
Ordinance 90-16 is the Solid Waste and Nuisance Abatement Ordinance currently in effect, which was adopted by the voters in 1990. It seems Commissioner Walker wants to make sure we understand that the true purpose of the four new ordinances she’s advocating is simply to make the Solid Waste and Nuisance ordinance easier for the public to understand.
Yet, when Nannette Chase, the County Planning Department’s Ordinance Administrator, got up to testify at Commissioner Walker’s behest, Mrs. Chase said “I would just like to remind everybody that these ordinances are just not about solid waste. They're about enforcing Planning, Land Use, and Building Safety codes as well.”
There seems to be a disconnect between Commissioner Walker’s insistence that these ordinances are just clarifications of our current Solid Waste and Nuisance Ordinance and Mrs. Chase’s reminder that these ordinances cover a whole lot more than that. As it happens, Mrs. Chase is correct. Both the Code Enforcement Officer Ordinance and Hearings Officer Ordinance apply to every County ordinance, code, rule, regulation, or other law. And that is clearly stated in the ordinances themselves. 65% to 85% of the violations filed each year are Planning Code violations. So it is Planning Code violations, not Nuisance violations, that are the primary target of the Code Enforcement Officer and Hearings Officer Ordinances.
180 Degree Turnaround
At the Weekly Business Session on April 17, when the Commissioners voted 2:1 to adopt this package of new ordinances, Commissioner Walker explained why our current Nuisance Ordinance (90-16) is inadequate. She said “Currently, any complaints we have are processed and handled under state law. … What we're doing under these ordinances is setting up our own methodology to do this locally, and do it within a matter of days, weeks, or months, rather than years that it takes now.” In a radio interview on KAJO on May 28, she reiterated “Currently, as the law stands, if a complaint is filed, it has to go through the judicial process, through the Circuit Court, which takes many, many years and the homeowner has to have an attorney to defend them.”
In her presentation on September 25, Commissioner Walker did an about face on this subject. She stated “One of the things I would like to point out is that we currently have a Hearings Officer proceeding. If you look on Section 8 of the old ordinance, there is a Hearings Officer process already in there, but it doesn't go into a lot of -- It has some explanation, but the Hearings Officer Ordinance actually provides for a better handling of those cases to the benefit of the parties that have received a citation.” She goes on to say “So the Hearings Officer proceedings was taken from the original Ordinance number 90-16, and was rewritten to include more processes in regards to having a person able to seek justice in regards to any citation that was written to them -- written against them.” Later in the presentation, she said "And, of course, under both ordinances, the county can file a lawsuit. That is existing and will continue in the new one, so it was carried over."
Since we already have a Hearings Officer proceeding under our current Nuisance Ordinance (90-16), why has Commissioner Walker repeatedly insisted that the only way to deal with nuisance complaints under the current law is to go through the Circuit Court? Perhaps she hadn’t actually read our current Nuisance Ordinance until recently. But now that she has read it, she should also be aware that, under our current Nuisance Ordinance, the Board of County Commissioners can serve as the Hearings Officer, and that the option of taking an alleged violation to court is “in lieu of, or in addition to” a hearing before the BCC.
So, if it currently takes years to process nuisance violations, the fault lies with our BCC, not with our current Nuisance Ordinance. Commissioner Walker neglected to mention that in her presentation, and also neglected to mention that the provision allowing nuisance hearings to be heard by the BCC has been eliminated from this new package of ordinances she’s promoting. Under the new ordinances, the County will have to hire a panel of Hearings Officers instead.
Furthermore, her claim that the Hearings Officer proceedings taken from Ordinance 90-16 were rewritten “to the benefit of the parties that have received a citation” is simply not true.
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Many of the protections for the property owner included in our current ordinance have been stripped from the new proposed ordinances. For example, the proposed new Nuisance Ordinance she’s promoting states that, if a property owner doesn’t appeal the citation in ten days, they forfeit their right to a hearing. And, if they do appeal, “only those matters specifically raised in writing in the appeal will be considered at the hearing.” These new provisions certainly don’t benefit the party that received a citation. In fact, in every instance where the new ordinances differ from our current ordinance, the accused property owner is at a greater disadvantage under the new ordinances.
But Wait, There’s More
In the next article, The Ordinances According to Cherryl Walker, we’ll look at some of the “facts” Commissioner Walker stated, both during her presentation and in response to comments from citizens, that are not, in fact, factual at all.
Want to ask Commissioners Cherryl Walker, Keith Heck and Simon Hare about the scheme? They can be reached at the office of the County Commissioners, (541) 474-5221, Ext. 2 or by e-mail at: [email protected], and [email protected] and [email protected]josephine.or.us.
County Government vs. Citizens
2- Commissioners Cherryl Walker and Keith Heck Misinformed
3- Commissioner Cherryl Walker, Kangaroo Court and Big Fines
4- Josephine County, Oregon: Sad Failure of Central Planning
5- Bureaucrat Cherry Walker - The Bully in Josephine County Government
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