Imagine you are a couple living on Orcas. You file a complaint against a commercial property owner who you feel is in violation of the County Code. You sign forms promising your confidentiality.
Let's leave aside the merits of the complaint against the commercial property owner for the moment because that is quite a yarn unto its own. We hope to tell that story from the standpoint of the commercial property developer at some time in the not-too-distant future too.
Back to the couple who complained (and by the way, they were not the only complainants) ... shortly after filing their complaint, the couple themselves come under suspicion for code violations about their home. Armed with a Polaris photo and suspicions of potential violations suggested by the photo, a "third party" notifies CDPD of alleged violations on the couple's property. No one files a formal complaint but an "activity report" is completed by CDPD based on a conversation with the "third party." With this activity report as justification, a CDPD staffer (not a Code Enforcement Officer) begins an investigation of the couple, including a drive-by look-see of the couple's property from a public right-of-way. No buildings can be seen from the public-right-of-way, but nevertheless, the "case" is turned over to a Code Enforcement Officer.
Four days before Christmas in 2011, the couple is traveling for the holidays. Unbeknownst to them, they receive a notice at their home stating that CDPD suspects that they might have an illegal building on their property. They are given 14 days to respond, and it just so happens that the couple returns from their travels on the 14th day. They find that their front gate has been tagged with a notice of violation and a "Stop Work" order.
After a discussion with the Enforcement Officer, the couple is quickly shifted to dealing with Deputy Prosecutor Amy Vera. Also, the alleged code violation shape-shifts a bit too ... from having to do with an illegal building to having to do with something about a trailer as well.
While this is happening, the commercial property developer submits a public records request to the County for all public records related to his situation, including the names of complainants. The County notifies the couple that their names will be revealed to fulfill the public records request. The couple objects via their attorney, stating that they were assured of anonymity and have signed confidentiality agreements to that effect, but the County releases their names anyway.
Needless to say, by this point the couple is feeling rather picked on by the County and by CDPD especially. They ask their local Councilman for help, and complain about two CDPD staff in particular. The Councilman relays the couple's concerns to Administrator Pete Rose.
Shortly after this, and despite having an attorney willing to accept service of court papers, the couple is served with notice at their home that the County intends to sue them for code violations. The couple's lawyer responds to the lawsuit notice and offers to CDPD that they come to the property to view the building/trailer in question in the hope of pursuing a resolution to the matter. Six months go by ... the County doesn't respond.
While giving the couple the silent treatment, the County (for some reason) decides to pursue a criminal case against the couple. On October 16, 2012, the Sheriff and the CDPD Enforcement Officer appear before Judge Andrews to say that they have probable cause to search the couple's private property for evidence of crimes. They get a warrant to enter the couple's property, and they proceed directly to the property with the intent to search it. When the County arrives at the property, they find a locked gate and no one home. So, the Sheriff calls the wife at her place of business and tells her to come to unlock the gate immediately, otherwise the Sheriff will cut the lock on the gate to gain entry to the property. The couple (together) rush home to find a County vehicle, a Sheriff's vehicle, two deputies, the CDPD Enforcement Officer, and the Deputy Building Inspector all waiting to enter their property. Of particular note to the couple is that the two CDPD employees present were the same employees that the couple had recently complained about to their Councilman.
A month later (November 2012), the couple are issued a summons to appear in District Court as they were being charged with four criminal misdemeanors and threatened with possible fines of $5,000 plus and a year in jail. And not once has the couple received a notice of correction, compliance plan, or even a phone call simply asking how the matter could be resolved more amicably.
And as far as we understand the situation, the entire matter involves an alleged owner-builder agricultural building of approximately 1,000 square feet and an associated trailer ... not visible from the road ... not hurting anyone ... a victimless "crime" if it is a crime at all.
If you want to find out more, or if you want to support this couple, then please attend their hearing on March 20 (Wednesday) at 1:45 pm at the Courthouse in Friday Harbor.
Is this really how we want our County to treat us ... or our neighbors? Do we really want to create laws (like the CAOs) that encourage this sort of thing? Also, think about this case when you read the proposed new enforcement ordinance.