ELECTING A NEW GATEKEEPER FOR YOUR LIBERTY
By Attorney Wally Hicks
May 5, 2014
The Property Code Enforcement Battle is Not Over
Josephine County, Oregon —Every rule and regulation that empowers county Commissioners, department heads, or staff is first written into law by the county Legal Counsel. Last November, Josephine County’s citizens overturned four nuisance ordinances by a 4-to-1 margin in a costly special election. Those ordinances were extremely draconian and the voters defeated them for a host of good reasons. This month’s Legal Counsel election will determine whether those nuisance ordinances could someday return.
The five-term incumbent, Steve Rich (who has never been challenged in an election), readily admits to writing the four nuisance ordinances. When asked about them at the April 23, 2014 candidate forum he declared, “I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to do it over again.” So it’s worth considering whether we, the citizens, really want to elect Mr. Rich again.
What follows is the case for why its time for the people of Josephine County to reclaim control of their Legal Counsel’s office by electing me, Wally Hicks.
Exhibit A: THE NUISANCE ORDINANCES
Mr. Rich was asked by the prior Board of Commissioners to update our current Solid Waste and Nuisance ordinance, which the voters approved in 1990. In response, he brought the commissioners four ordinances that included the following provisions:
The County can charge up to $200 a day, to a maximum of $10,000,
for any continuing violation of the Code Enforcement ordinance for
which no other penalty is specified (1754 Â§18.1).
• A newly created misdemeanor crime of non-compliance with the county Hearings Officer, which is punishable by one year in jail and a $2,500 fine (1753 §13.2.D).
• An accused person must first post the fine for the violation before they can request a trial or hearing (1754 §13.1.B &§18.4).
• A county Hearings Officer can impose both civil and criminal penalties (1755 §5.4).
• The only qualification for a Hearings Officer is to understand administrative law and procedure. No legal training or experience is required (1755 §6.2).
• The county would no longer have to reimburse the reasonable attorney’s fees of accused citizens who win their nuisance case. (Current ordinance 90-16 §8.030D, which the new ordinances would have repealed).
The county can fine a property owner twice the value of their property
if any profit was realized through any violation of any code or
ordinance (1754 §18.6.A).
• Fines recovered for code violations are paid to the department that issued the citation (1754 §18.8.B).
• Any violation of any provision of any county ordinance, code, rule, regulation, order, or law, shall be deemed to be a public nuisance and may be abated by the County (1754 §18.11).
• The rules of evidence, which are designed to protect the rights of the accused, do not apply in a hearing before a Hearings Officer. (1755 §16.1).
• The county Hearings Officer may conduct a warrantless search of any premises or property involved in or related to the hearing (1755 §16.6).
Last year’s ordinance fiasco cost the taxpayers $40,000 for the special election. My opponent says he wouldn’t do anything differently if he had to do it over. Electing me as your Legal Counsel ensures that our county will not have to risk going through that experience again.
Exhibit B: THE COUNTY CODEBOOK
Most counties in Oregon have a consolidated and indexed codebook of their ordinances so that citizens can easily know the laws that govern them. That is not the case in Josephine County. On at least three occasions the commissioners have allocated tax dollars to have the consolidation project outsourced, but to date Mr. Rich has not followed through with it.
As your next Legal Counsel, I will make this project a top priority.
Exhibit C: THE COUNTY CHARTER
In his 2005 memo regarding the County Charter, Mr. Rich criticized Charter Section 29.1 (The Right to Bear Arms) for such reasons as: “…it violates the freedom of speech guarantees, it purports to direct the conduct of state officials, it purports to amend state criminal law….” The county charter is intended to be a layer of protection against encroachment by our state government. If the current language of the charter does not achieve the level of protection that the citizens clearly want, then our Legal Counsel should be working on language that does protect the people of our county.
Exhibit D: EXECUTIVE ORDER 12-07
Following a monumental effort by southern Oregon legislators the governor agreed to sign Executive Order 12-07 which created a pilot program for regional farm and forest land conservation. The order allows Josephine, Douglas and Jackson counties to offer an appropriate regional definition for lands that are inappropriately classified under state law. This could lead to a lot of jobs for our county even without threatening the environment. The order was signed on May 10, 2012 yet to date no plan has emerged. The Legal Counsel should be leading the way on this redefinition project before we lose the opportunity forever.
Exhibit E: THE COST
The office of Legal Counsel costs $472,200/year in wages and benefits. This covers the salaries for the Legal Counsel, the Assistant Legal Counsel, a Legal Administrator, a Law Clerk, and a Legal Secretary. While the people of Josephine County have paid him a full-time salary, Mr. Rich has gotten rich by working for additional paying clients such as the City of Rogue River and Gold Hill. Even now he continues to work for other government clients while outsourcing work that should be done by the Josephine County Legal Counsel’s office.
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The people of Josephine County deserve a Legal Counsel who will focus on our county’s issues like a laser, which is what I pledge to do.
The county Legal Counsel is a gate-keeper of your liberty. As your next Legal Counsel, I will work for the citizens. I will never draft an ordinance that puts the interests of county department heads and bureaucrats above the interests of the people. Laws should be written to protect your rights, not to deny them.
Steve Rich, is not protecting your freedom or property rights. That’s why I’m respectfully requesting your vote this month for Josephine County Legal Counsel.
© 2014 Wally Hicks - All Rights Reserved
the author: State Representative Wally Hicks currently represents
most of Josephine County in the legislature. He is the fifth generation
of his family to have resided in Josephine County. He is a former
Deputy District Attorney and he has in that role handled hundreds
of cases of behalf of the community. He served as a Marine Lieutenant
in the Iraq War. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and
the University of Oregon School of Law where he was formally trained
in the area of local government law. He holds a certificate of completion
for the state and local government executive education program from
the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Find more information at: www.wallyhicks.com.