From the January 2001 Idaho Observer:


Boise mayor, city council adopts insane civil forfeiture ordinance

Citizens view move the fourth in a series of despotic mayoral actions

by T. Allen Hoover

BOISE -- Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles' city council adopted Ordinance No. 6025 December 19, 2000, which targets for civil forfeiture properties involved in methamphetamine production. Passage of the ordinance without the benefit of public debate has caused an already simmering pot of public angst to begin boiling over in Idaho's state capital city.

In the last year, Coles has taken it upon himself to raise parking meter rates by 400 percent and has permitted the on-going placement of cameras at intersections throughout Boise. Coles also annexed 8,000 people into the city, thereby raising their tax burden by 20 percent to 33 percent, without even consulting them, much less allowing them to vote on the issue. Coles, a Republican, supported the passage of the failed federal Conservation and Reinvestment Act so that his town of 175,000 residents, which already boasts 80 ill-maintained and overgrown parks, could saddle taxpayers with another 55-acre park within city limits.

Adoption of the meth lab ordinance may be the straw that breaks Coles' political back as coalitions of socially and politically disparate groups are forming to contemplate legal recourses which may include a recall of the mayor, recall of city council members and legally overturning the controversial ordinance.

The Idaho Statesman Journal, the area's daily dominant media publication, published an editorial supporting the ordinance. “At long last, Mayor Brent Coles and the City Council have found an issue that grabs the attention of the masses,” the liberal-leaning Statesman commented.

In further defense of the new ordinance, the Statesman observed, “Boise could be the only city in America in which elected officials are recalled for fighting the war on drugs.”

The Statesman is apparently not aware that the war on drugs is a sham and that ordinances such as 6025 are really weapons used by government to wage war on private property ownership and civil rights.

The new meth lab ordinance, which according to Coles' office is designed to “educate property owners” as to Boise's meth problem, has prompted a flood of letters, complaints, protests and is the main topic of heated controversy on local talk radio stations. The words “tyranny” and “police state” have been used by Boise citizens to describe the mayor's new ordinance which empowers the chief of police to begin “abatement proceedings” within 15 working says of the property owner being noticed that his property has been identified as a “nuisance property” connected with the production or distribution of meth.

One letter to the Idaho Statesman Journal editor noted that, with the exception of the city attorney, every attorney on record condemns the ordinance because of innumerable renters' rights and anti-discrimination laws with which its enforcement would be in direct conflict. The writer also observed that the ordinance essentially makes the Boise police chief the “minister of residential rental property” who has dictatorial powers that deny due process of law while doing nothing to end the city's meth problem.

The Boise City Council justified adoption of the ordinance on the grounds that Boise citizens deserve to live in drug and hazardous materials-free neighborhoods and that it is incumbent upon the city to promulgate and enforce laws intended to achieve those ends. However, “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants, it is the creed of slaves,” commented British Prime Minister William Pitt in a speech to the House of Commons in the late 1700s.

An analysis of the ordinance

“A report of illegal drug activities will allow the police chief to notify the property owner that the property is in danger of being declared a 'nuisance property' and 'educational materials' will be included.”

The educational materials presumably threaten the landowner with confiscation of his property if he does not carefully select and spy on his tenants. The ordinance requires the landowner owner to violate existing renters' rights non-discrimination laws or risk confiscation of his property.

“If a second police report regarding illegal drugs on the same property is received within 180 days, the chief will notify the owner, any lienholder or holder of any mortgage on the property again notifying of the danger of being declared 'nuisance property' status.

“If a written response is not received from the owner in 15 working days, the chief can start proceedings to get the property cleaned up.”

Most attorneys would agree that the language above is too vague to be defensible or enforceable in a court of law.

“If landlords don't cooperate, the matter can be referred to a task force that can seek closure of the property and or impose civil penalties.”

Recent rulings in the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled property closures as takings under the Fifth Amendment. Enforcement of Boise Ordinance No. 6025 constitutes a flagrant violation of due process.

“Property CAN be confiscated, in an emergency.”

A district court judge can do so by order when evidence exists of an immediate threat to public welfare and safety. The chief would notify the city attorney to request closure under the state's temporary restraining order provision. The ordinance does not give a clear definition of an emergency. Therefore, declaration of such could easily be arbitrary and capricious.

“The ordinance was passed on a unanimous vote with little debate.”

Citizens of Boise are now subject to penalties for the criminal acts of another person without having had the opportunity for public comment. What if a tenant commits rape or keeps stolen merchandise on the rented premises? Should the property be confiscated and the owner go to jail?

“The Boise Chief of Police says property owners should not worry; the law is there to educate them.”

Pardon the departure from objective reporting, but such a statement is like going to school at gunpoint.

To justify passage of this civil forfeiture ordinance, the city has ignored the fact that landlords do not want to rent to druggies as they commonly destroy properties and diminish capitalization potential on their investments.

Making landlords spy on tenants raises a number of privacy issues, violates a host constitutional freedoms, and endangers the property owner by demanding that he do the work that the police are trained (and armed) to do. One owner said his reaction was to buy a gun because of the type of person he is likely to anger while “observing and reporting.”

The ordinance compels landlords to violate certain laws to facilitate a drug bust because police are not legally empowered to do so.

There is a mounting resistance to the ordinance. Certain area attorneys are chomping at the bit waiting for a couple of cases to go the full course and are anticipating the filing of class-action lawsuits.

Boiseans for Responsible Meth Control has formed and will tackle the issue head-on. Real estate agent Joe Rohner and Laird Maxwell of Idahoans for Tax Reform head up the group and are seeking volunteers to circulate petitions or recruit candidates to run against the mayor and the city council incumbents. The group can be contacted at cleanthebarn@idahojoe.com.

Council members Mike Wetherell, Sarah Baker, Jerome Mapp and Coles are up for re-election this fall.

Numerous other groups that previously had different axes to grind are communicating and will likely form larger and more powerful groups that will either produce serious contenders for the mayor and city council offices, or will have more than sufficient clout to support a candidate or mount a recall.

Coles is the current chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization that, among other things, endorses Second Amendment violations commonly called gun control. In his capacity as chairman, Coles recently co-sponsored a nomination of Bill Clinton for the conference's Distinguished Service Award.

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Mr. Hoover is a politically active Boise-area businessman, armorer and Second-Amendment supporter who keeps an eye on Boise for The Idaho Observer and its readers.