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Island County property rights chapter kicks off
A new Island County chapter of a group dedicated to protecting property rights held its first meeting last Wednesday night at a Mexican restaurant in Oak Harbor.
Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson, her husband Kenneth, and a few friends decided to bring the Citizen’s Alliance for Property Rights, or CAPR, to the county because of what they see as the erosion of property rights.
The focus of their ire appears to be on county government, particularly the new Clean Water Utility and associated tax, the septic tank inspection program, the Conservation Futures program and an effort to build sewers in Freeland. But Commissioner Emerson, who gave the keynote speech, said it’s also a national issue.
“We have really strayed in that our governments have evolved into these destructive entities that feed on infringement of people’s rights,” she said. “...If you don’t have property to do it on, you don’t have any rights at all.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Emersons would help start a chapter of CAPR. Commissioner Emerson, a Tea Party Republican, campaigned on a promise to cut taxes and make government smaller and less intrusive. She and her husband sued the county over what they felt was a property-rights infringement, but a judge dismissed the case.
Only a dozen people attended the unadvertised meeting, plus a few more from Camano Island took part via an internet hookup at the Stanwood Library. Kenneth Emerson is the interim president of the Island County chapter of CAPR and Oak Harbor resident Ken Wolf is interim vice president.
“I kind of pushed this on him to get this started,” Commissioner Emerson said of her husband. “It’s something that is very much needed in Island County.”
Oak Harbor resident Michelle Fealey volunteered to be the treasurer of the group, which is quite a complicated task given that CAPR is an umbrella group covering a political action committee, a legal fund and educational activities. She said she normally likes to stay below the radar, but decided to become active because of her serious concerns about the decay of property rights.
“If I don’t get involved right now, we’re going to become communists,” she said. “Do we own our own property anymore? No, we’re renting it from the government.”
While it’s unabashedly a conservative group, the meeting attracted people with a variety of opinions. South Whidbey resident Jim Adsley, for example, said he “might be considered a tree hugger” and announced that he believes that things like leaky septic tanks are a real concern that the government should address. But he said the county is going about dealing with these issues in the wrong way. Pollution comes from urban areas, he said, which is where regulators should concentrate their efforts.
“They are creating hardships on people who aren’t creating the problems,” he said.
Commissioner Emerson suggested a number of things that the group could accomplish, especially if the board returns to Republican domination in a couple of years. She suggested revoking the Clean Water Utility, which she and a number of others in the audience argued was just a gimmick to raise more taxes. Boldly — given the audience — Emerson said she was in favor of the county hiring a hydrogeologist, which will be funded by the new Clean Water Utility tax, but feels that the position should be filled by a contractor, who would be more independent. She didn’t say how the position would be funded without the utility.
Emerson spoke in opposition to any efforts to increase public access to beaches at the expense of property owners. She said people who own waterfront property take better care of the shoreline than members of the public, who may leave behind trash. She said a speaker at a workshop pointed out to her that hundreds of people in Island County own waterfront property; she said they are members of the public, so that’s public access.
Most of all, Emerson and others stressed the importance of having members of the group attend — and become appointed to — the smorgasbord of committees and boards in county government, but especially the planning commission.
“Our focus should be on getting more like-minded people in different sections of government,” she said.
Moreover, she said it’s vital that the members attend as many different meetings as possible to keep an eye on what’s happening; she claimed that the county’s planning department doesn’t always keep accurate records. Also, she said the members’ involvement and simple attendance will encourage planning commission members “to take a stand.”
Emersons pointed out that Steve Erickson of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network has been very successful shaping policy because he stays involved.
“As much as I disagree with him on many issues, I respect his activism. He is at these meetings,” she said.
In an interview, Erickson, who wasn’t at the CAPR meetings, agrees that such grassroots activism can be very effective, if people are willing to take the time to attend meetings and become educated on the issues.
“They could be very effective or they could just spin their wheels,” he said. He pointed out that South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose started a group called the Island County Property Rights Alliance years ago and he questioned why this new group was needed.
Marianne Edain, also of WEAN, said people who attend board and committee meetings regularly become “part of the show” and are “able to inject a lot of ideas.”
“If these property rights folks do that, it could be scary what kind of ideas they inject,” she said.
Anyone interested in joining CAPR or attending the next meeting, check out http://proprights.org/ISLAND.