VOICES: State Flouts Its Own Law, County vs. Property Owners

March 11, 2014

Inside Insight

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voices

WHEN LAWMAKERS DON’T WANT TO FOLLOW THE LAW, THEY WRITE A PROVISO

[Editor’s note: Occasionally, through conversations or emails, The Nerve receives stories about the follies or overweaning, wasteful, or otherwise irresponsible government. Many of these stories, though short, are too good to keep from our readers. The two below are excellent examples. We plan to publish more as we receive them.]

From Karen Martin, organizer of the Spartanburg Tea Party:

I attended the local government fund meeting recently with members of Spartanburg County Council and our legislative delegation. Now, I know I have a simple mind when it comes to finances, but here’s how I see it. The law says that the federal government can withhold part of my income throughout the year, and at the end of the fiscal year when all is reconciled, they return part of my money to me. It’s the law. And once that money is returned to me, I decide how to spend it. I do not have to submit an expense list to the IRS to get back my money.

But according to Rep. Rita Allison: “Outcry about the reduction of state money going to local government funds has been limited, and several governments have managed the reduction by increasing fees or cutting costs.” Rep. Eddie Tallon, similarly, said, “There’s not an appetite on that subcommittee to really do much for local government because they’re not getting the information from your lobbyists and representatives.”

But the law says this money comes back to the county. Not if we raise a big enough outcry. Not if our county gives a subcommittee enough information on what county expense we intend to pay with the money. No, the law says we get it back.

This was the most telling point of the meeting. [County councilman] David Britt asked the question we all had in mind: “If the law says, and the law clearly does … the law says these monies go back to the county. How do you not follow the law?” The answer from Rep. Allison was this: “We write a proviso.” Everyone laughed. The two delegation members looked around. They couldn’t figure out why we found that funny. (Of course, it’s not funny, really).

From Donna Linsin, Citizen Reporter from Oconee County:

Little did Jean Jennings, David and Michelle McMahan, and Mae Davis know that they would become victims of abuse from their elected officials. These property owners went through the proper channels to zone their property by a citizen-initiated petition requesting their property be zoned to a Traditional Rural District (TRD). The rules for TRDs fit with how they wanted to use their land. Long after the petitioners began their citizen-initiated petition for the TRD, the Oconee County Council, with the support of special interests, amended the county’s zoning ordinance by adding an additional zoning district, called the Agricultural Residential District (ARD).

Once the new ARD was in place in the Zoning Ordinance, councilmen took it upon themselves to zone the petitioner’s land to an ARD instead of a TRD. The petitioners objected and went to court. They lost their court case in 2012. Judge J. Cordell Maddox ruled that it was a political issue. The petitioners won on appeal by citing the county’s violation of theRight to Farm Act. That law effectively forbids governments from being overly restrictive on privately owned land.  Judge R. Lawton McIntosh’s decision was that the ARD violated the state’s Right to Farm Act.

County Council is in the process of filing an appeal of the Judge McIntosh’s ruling on the Right to Farm Act. Council has asked their victims to compromise and negotiate, holding the threat of appeal over their heads. The relentless County Council is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs, as well as forcing the agricultural families in the case to come up with many thousands of dollars to defend themselves from their own county government. If the county-funded attorneys prevail, a ruling restricting historical agricultural use could set a precedent for attacking agricultural interests in all 46 counties.

Should we be concerned that our county government wants to negotiate with their intended victims on a state law intended to protect those victims?  How can a county government negotiate a state law anyway?

Have you encountered government run amok? Send us an email at info@thenerve.org.