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Dissatisfied landowners start recall

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - The Measure 37 Committee has set up its recall headquarters on Southwest Highway 97.


   Some dissatisfied local landowners have started a recall effort for two of the three Jefferson County commissioners -- Bill Bellamy and Walt Ponsford.
   The chief petitioners, longtime local residents who are 100 and 97 years old, Fannie Regnier and Leona Waldow, are not actively involved in the effort -- which is a result of Measure 37 -- but have indicated that they support it.
   "I thought I would like to go in on that," said Regnier, who has a Measure 37 claim with her husband. "I have to have money to live." She hopes to have someone develop 181 acres of irrigated land she owns along Boise Drive, currently zoned exclusive farm use, into one-acre homesites.
   The Measure 37 Committee is concerned that "two county commissioners are still holding up the implementation of our rights here in Jefferson County," and three lawsuits filed against the county could cost the county up to $9 million.
   Last week, the Measure 37 Committee sent out letters to county residents asking voters to immediately recall the two commissioners, and "put in commissioners who will obey the law, resolve the lawsuits and treat our senior citizens with dignity and respect."
   Measure 37, passed statewide in November of 2004, allows property owners to seek compensation when state or local government enacts regulations that reduce the value of their property -- provided they owned the property prior to the passage of the regulations.
   The law gives government the right to waive those regulations rather than pay compensation, as Jefferson County has done since April of 2005, when it granted its first three waivers. To date, the county has approved waivers on over 50 claims, affecting over 4,300 acres.
   However, those initiating the recall feel that the waivers are worthless, noting that the County Commission -- specifically Bellamy and Ponsford -- hasn't properly released property to allow development.
   "They're not complying with the law at all," said Bob Harris, of Culver, who has helped fund the effort. "The state has fully, properly released on every claim."
   Harris, who is retired, has owned property in the Willowdale area for about a decade. He is assisting many of those who have filed claims. "I can't turn down helping these older people out," he said, noting that he never charges for his help.
   Because the county failed to release on the claims, he pointed out, it faces three lawsuits filed by property owners Leona Waldow, Billy Towery and Hal Pruitt, which could potentially cost the county millions of dollars.
   "You cannot record a document on someone else's property without a lawful right to do it," he said. "I've been involved in this for 40 years, and it's just common sense."
   One of those he is assisting is Waldow, who filed a lawsuit against the county in September of 2005. She is seeking $2 million, plus fees and expenses, because the county "has not modified, removed or not applied the restrictive land-use regulations to allow plaintiff to use her property for a use permitted at the time she acquired the property, i.e., subdivide the property into 5-acre lots and sell the lots for single family residential development," the complaint states.
   Waldow acquired 152 acres of farm land on Northeast Quaale Road, east of Clark Drive, in 1952. Acting on her behalf, Harris, who plans to develop the property with Waldow, asked the county to allow her to divide her property into 29 5-acre parcels. The county granted the waiver July 27, 2005.
   Commissioner Mary Zemke, who is not targeted by the recall, has sided with those pushing the recall. "The county needs to release all regulations enacted after the date of acquisition and list them out," she wrote in a letter to county voters.
   "Health and safety regulations are the only exclusions -- and the county is attempting to exploit health and safety issues to further delay processing of claims," she continued. "Health issues consist of a proper septic/sewer system and safety issues are safe access to roads and room for emergency vehicles on residential streets. All other requirements are waived back to the standards in place at the date of acquisition."
   Bellamy and Ponsford maintain that the county released Measure 37 claims when it granted the waivers.
   "We don't have a hold on anything," Bellamy said, noting that the county ordinance addressing Measure 37 claims no longer mentions transferability.
   "I have voted for 90 percent of the changes they proposed," he said, adding, "but I don't agree with the philosophy of Bob Harris."
   According to Bellamy, Harris has advised those pursuing Measure 37 claims not to pay fees or cooperate with the county when the Community Development Department tells them that their claims are incomplete.
   "Every one of his applications is incomplete," said Bellamy. "It's generally a matter of about five minutes to make it complete."
   Harris points to the wording of the measure, which states that the county "may adopt or apply procedures for the processing of claims under this act, but in no event shall these procedures act as a prerequisite to the filing of a compensation claim under subsection 6 of this act, nor shall the failure of an owner of property to file an application for a land-use permit with the local government serve as grounds for dismissal, abatement, or delay of a compensation claim under subsection 6 of this act."
   "I don't think anything's unclear about it," Harris said. "All we're asking is to let the claims get into court and let a judge decide."
   The Measure 37 Committee, a coalition primarily of claimants, filed its prospective petitions for recall on June 26. The committee has 90 days to gather 886 valid signatures on each of the petitions.
   So far, contribution and expenditure filings indicate that Harris has spent $500 on the rent for the recall headquarters on South Highway 97, and $500 for a printed sign, and Linda Skavlan, treasurer for Ponsford's recall, has spent $50 for office supplies. Harris purchased election labels in October of 2005 for $268, but that amount, the cost of the mailing to voters, and advertising has not yet been included in a report.
   If the committee collects enough signatures, the clerk's office has 10 days to verify the signatures, after which the public official has five days to resign or file a statement of justification. The election, which would cost between $7,000 and $8,000, must be held within 35 days after the statement has been filed, according to County Clerk Kathy Marston.
   Ponsford feels the effort is a waste of time and the county's money. "I think it's silly. If they want to get me, they should wait until November," he said, noting that his term is up at the end of the year, and he is running for re-election.
   "What I'm accused of is ridiculous," Ponsford said. "I'm accused of not doing things exactly the way they want. I almost invariably refuse to do everything that everyone wants. It's an impossibility."
   As a commissioner, Ponsford feels that it's his duty to follow the law, and protect the county's residents. "The county's job is to provide needs, whether it's a fog line, police protection, or safety," he said.
   Culver farmer Mike Alley, chairman for the recall of Bellamy and a Measure 37 claimant, is unhappy with the performance of the two commissioners. "These senior citizens are tired of getting the roundabout," he said.
   Alley said he got involved in the committee because he felt that Bellamy and Ponsford were "stonewalling" on the Measure 37 claims. "They're not releasing according to the law. Not one of the subdivisions have been fully released or approved by the county. The state is releasing them," he said.
   "Thirty-seven, good or bad, has passed," Alley said. "I do not understand why Bellamy and Ponsford want to hold us out there accountable for these lawsuits. There have already been some lost in other counties. All the county has to do is lose part of the suit and they'll be on the hook for attorney fees. They're trying to get in the middle of this thing. They need to step aside."
   Linda Skavlan, who got involved in the issue on behalf of an elderly relative, agrees with Alley. Her relative should be able to sell his property to assist in his retirement. "He used to have those rights; with Measure 37, he should have those rights again."