Many people assume that the board doesn’t have any real power because the 2004 ordinance revisions reserved enforcement to the county, especially to the code enforcement person. Before or after those revisions, however, the usual pattern of activity in the districts shows that the personality of the board members and/or the enforcement person is the real standard by which the ordinance is enforced. This is clearly evidenced by the different treatment the Girrards have received. Under chairman Bill Strauser, he instructed the board to leave them alone whereas chairman L.M. Smith is issuing implied threats to burn down their home! (Smith’s exact quote is dealt with here.) And this is just one example.
The truth is, however, the board members have powers comparable to judges and they have power that runs the gamut from the most trivial of matters up to million dollar projects. These “judges,” however, are not experienced or even instructed in any legal standards of adjudicating and often do not know even the historical ordinance. They are not held to any standards of obtaining or evaluating evidence, and slander, gossip, rumors and outright lies as well as the personal opinions of the board members are given weight or even used as “valid” testimony. (see Smith’s confusion between his opinion and factual evidence here.) If the board is allowed to remain in place, the board’s criminal activity in this regard must be stopped and appropriate penalties set in place!
If a resident violates the ordinance it is a misdemeanor crime but there is no penalty for a board member who uses gossip or slander at a board meeting. Potentially a resident can end up with a criminal record because of something as trivial as the color of one’s house but a board member is insulated from repercussions from what they say. It is far less likely that anyone who is part of or at least sympathetic or submissive to the historicals party will get in any real trouble – that is, generally, no one presses any complaints against those in good graces with the board and county. But now it would seem that Smith is seeking – and gaining! – approval for his desire for vigilante powers!
No legal assistance whatsoever is offered or provided for those residents who cannot afford it. One reason for this is because the ordinance and district is maintained in such a way that poorer people are quickly made to feel unwelcome and they simply aren’t supposed to exist in the district. Thus most people who are new to the district already have their own legal counsel or, because the matter at first seems simple and straight forward, most people don’t see their need for legal counsel in their dealings with the board until it’s too late.
The end result of all this misuse of power is a government sanctioned gated community for the benefit of a few wealthy elites. (For a fuller treatment of this, see here.) And the board always cycles around to a misuse of power because it is not built on the American principles of liberty but instead built upon the principles of socialistic control. Sooner or later, the control freaks rise to power and begin to oppress their neighbors. It is inevitable. It has already re-occurred in the historical districts and it will continue to reoccur until the board members no longer have power over their neighbors.
It is heart-wrenching when unsuspecting poorer or disadvantaged people are instructed, coerced, convinced or pressured to appear alone before the board (in spite of the ordinance’s clear statements that no one can be forced to appear before the board – ordinance p. 12-13) and then receive no mercy from the board’s present “interpretation” of the ordinance’s standards, standards which some board members, especially certain chairmen, have historically not been required to personally follow. Equally disturbing, some board members seem to feed off the petty control they exercise over their neighbors. It is even more repugnant when board members are just oh-so polite and nice and “helpful” while they separate the property owners from their American constitutional and civil rights and liberties. Too often neither the board member nor the owner realizes at the time just how deeply both have been cheated and robbed though the owner is the most aware that something wrong, even evil, has just been done to them.
The presence of 5 judges is supposed to eliminate the influence that any one board member can exert upon each situation. But the chairman who becomes accustomed, even addicted, to the feelings of power over one’s neighbors that are incorporated into the board meetings, becomes dangerous to the community. Reginald Richey as chairman demonstrated this some 10 years ago and the most recent statements from L.M. Smith about burning houses clearly indicates the same thing yet again. Even when less obnoxious chairmen, like Tom Mann or Bill Strauser, are in charge, arbitrary decisions place the district under the control of a person and not under the clear wordings of a law. This is not what America is supposed to be about.
The ordinance and function of the board is little more than a socialistic tool designed to reintroduce free-spirited Americans to the concepts
- that well-written, clear, concise laws are not sufficient but rather that they need other people to rule over them,
- that they should live in fear of what the government might do to them if they don’t conform to the board’s current petty standards and
- that neighbors are supposed to spy on one another and be in enmity with one another.
Even L.M. Smith has said the separation of enforcement to the county is “to keep people from pickin’ on other people or, you know, startin’ a Hatfield/McCoy feud.” (January 2018 LHPB meeting) Of course, Smith said this as he singled out the Girrards as the house most in need of enforcement and expressed his personal desire that their house be burned down! Knowing that the law is meant to keep out personal feuds and then using one’s position as board chairman to instigate a personal feud should be grounds for dismissal. But Smith has money and lawyers and jicky politics is the rule of the day.
It is still true that absolute (or unaccountable) power still corrupts absolutely. As a result, the board provides a cozy, comfortable place for power-hungry, petty despots who cannot otherwise attain to more powerful positions. Pathetic, sad and embarrassing are the most accurate descriptors one can choose to describe the historical board.