In Trinity County, California, a rural area with one traffic light, no freeways and less than 14,000 population according to the Census, the community may be small but the politics get just as nasty and underhanded as in any big city.
A local group of Patriot activists has been wrestling with the County Board of Supervisors over a range of issues, culminating in a citizen-driven effort to recall the board’s five members and place voter initiatives on the ballot.
In response, the Board of Supervisors did what every responsible political body does when its constituency exercises its constitutional right to petition for a redress of grievances — it sued the upstarts and publicly called them cop killers.
On January 5, the Trinity board sent out a press release justifying its actions against the citizens group, saying that the activists were wasting public funds, lying to the public and just generally behaving in an insane manner.
“The sane and rational members” of the community, as Supervisor Judy Morris referred to the board and its staff, then tossed out this gem:
“There is also broad concern about the overall intention of many of the members of the group, including some who have identified themselves as “sovereign citizens,” a group whose members nationwide hold the belief that there is no government and refuse to participate in long standing systems including everything from not having a driver’s license to creating their own internal militia structure. Members of sovereign citizen groups have been convicted of killing law enforcement officers in more than one incident nationally over the last several years.
“According to Supervisor Debra Chapman, “This group of people will take down anyone who disagrees with them at any moment, through lawsuits, verbally or by other means. They’re dangerous.” [Emphasis added.]
(Hmm. Couldn’t be any projection on the supervisor’s part, could there?)
In an email, the Patriots group responded to the accusation, saying, “We are unaware of any sovereign citizens within our group or in Trinity County. Not only do we support local law enforcement but many of the group have served on the Sheriff’s public safety and coordination advisory team. Our initiatives actually support the Sheriff and his department far more than the present policies of the board. One of the initiatives restores priority funding for law enforcement which under the present funding policies of the board leaves the Sheriff’s department dangerously understaffed.”
The group went to court this week in the lawsuits brought by the supervisors over the initiatives. Among other things, the county is asking for legal costs, most of which it created itself.
(This is the famed legal tactic known in Latin as tincidunt bibendum ipsum, or “stop hitting yourself.”)
According to the citizen activists, the county government has a history of bossing around residents who try to get information the board doesn’t want made public, such as county-paid credit card statements. After filing a California open record act request, the county still refused to provide the statements, claiming it would be too burdensome, activists say.
Other bureaucratic tricks have been used to foil efforts to hold the county government accountable to voters.
According to Kay Graves, who is involved in the initiatives effort, four of five recall drives against the board were nullified in December because the county did not deliver letters acknowledging there were adequate signatures on the recall petitions until it was too late for activists to publish the required notice in the county’s only paper of record.
When the group found in the California elections code that a public posting of such a notice was sufficient, they posted the notices. However, the county registrar/clerk/recorder refused to recognize the public posting and said the notices were not published on time.
The Trinity Gazette, a local publication put out by activists, reported on an October board meeting in which editor Diane Richards, who is also involved in the initiative lawsuits, was escorted out by a deputy for bringing up the Fourth Amendment during the public comments portion of a hearing about using “administrative warrants” to increase municipal code enforcement on private property.
Suffice it to say that Trinity County politics are complicated.
There may be a court ruling in the initiative lawsuits as early as today.
Regardless of the court’s decision and however the Board of Supervisors tries to spin its bullying of citizens whose only “crime” is expecting the government to behave responsibly, there is clearly a serious problem when a local elected board behaves like a petty monarchy trying to crush the peasant revolt.
It’s different in some other countries, but in America, government’s purpose — its primary reason for existing at all — is to protect the rights of its citizens, not to tell citizens what rights they may exercise.
The Trinity County supervisors would do well to remember the words of the Declaration of Independence: “To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. … Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”