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Vader Settles Complaint Over Code Enforcement Fines

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

The city of Vader signed a settlement last week letting a resident off the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees regarding alleged city code violations under a policy the American Civil Liberties Union and area residents have criticized for being overly punitive. 

Vader resident Tod Miller and the city of Vader agreed jointly to ask for the petition to be dismissed with a mutual release of claims, meaning the city will no longer pursue payment of fees for the alleged code violations, and Miller will no longer pursue legal claims in the case against the city. 

 ACLU Questions City of Vader’s Code Enforcement Practices

On Nov. 20, attorney Tonya Hebert filed a petition on behalf of Miller in Lewis County Superior Court arguing that the city had violated Miller’s rights to due process and that its code enforcement policies were an “erroneous application of the law.”

According to the petition, Miller was accused of living in a recreational vehicle, having an illegal connection to the city’s sewer, and for having a dangerous building and junk vehicles. 

Miller addressed the sewer connection, which he was unaware was a code violation, according to his petition, and appealed the remaining violations. 

However, his appeal was denied because he did not pay the $500 appeal fee, according to the petition. 

Miller’s petition asks for the court to issue a stay, allowing a review of his case. 

“Taking into account the low income condition of Vader, this ordinance is unduly oppressive to all its citizens,” the petition states. 

The penalty for violating Vader’s city code is $500 per violation per day, meaning Miller’s fees were accruing at a rate of $2,000 per day. 

“As of today, the petition is now subject to $218,000 in fines and fees which there is no realistic option to repay and which prevents any property transactions,” the petition reads. 

In a letter dated Nov. 18, the American Civil Liberties Union questioned Vader’s code enforcement policies with similar arguments. 

“It is hard to believe that the health and welfare of Vader’s citizenry is threatened if a resident lives in a motorhome for over 14 days — yet, that is precisely the kind of code violation that Vader is prosecuting,” a Nov. 18 letter from the ACLU to the city of Vader reads. 

“Rather than penalizing Vader citizens who are struggling financially, the City should work cooperatively to help those citizens remediate properties that pose true public health and safety risks.”

On Nov. 30, the city of Vader filed a request for summary judgment, asking a judge to dismiss the petition and arguing that Miller did not exhaust his options with the city. 

The summary judgment hearing was scheduled for Dec. 29. However, the parties signed the settlement on Dec. 28. The settlement acknowledges that the code issues have been addressed.

The case was formally dismissed on July 2 and entered into the case’s file this week.

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