Disabled vet faces homelessness because Thurston County protects illegal businesses

How things should have proceeded

Perkins’ two luxury horse businesses were violating multiple county laws.  Click here to see a list of the codes I have found so far.  There are also state environmental laws that appear to have been broken.

Perkins’ two businesses were considered to be so high risk to surrounding properties, that the county’s staff didn’t even have the authority to review her business for permit approval.

The two businesses would need to go to a Hearing Examiner for approval.  That judicial process is long, involved, very detailed, and expensive.

And since county law prohibited her two businesses from operating on the same parcel, Perkins would have to choose one or the other.

The county staff and managers had been legally bound to follow their own regulations and processes to shut down Perkins’ illegal businesses.

Because of the Hearing Examiner process, the county managers didn’t have the authority to work with Perkins and allow her businesses to remain open while she made changes.

For the county managers to do anything but immediately shut down Perkins’ businesses, they were apparently violating RCW 9A.76.020, “Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer,” which is a gross misdemeanor.

This law includes any general authority and public officer who is responsible for enforcement of zoning (land use) codes.   Even delaying the process is a violation of this law.

A gross misdemeanor can result in 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The county managers who permitted Perkins’ two illegal businesses to continue operating were also guilty of a misdemeanor, according to Thurston County Code 26.05.020(A).

A misdemeanor can bring 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

County Manager Cliff Moore obstructs legal process

In spite of all of the evidence and laws, the county has steadfastly refused to act on these illegal businesses that have caused so much property damage and so many health risks to neighbors.

County Manager Cliff Moore quickly became the sole county representative to communicate with Timm Gunderson, Timm’s wife, and me about the situation, although several other county officials were cc’d on our emails.

Those county employees have remained silent as the months have gone by.

Cliff Moore continued to deny that Perkins’ two illegal businesses were violating any codes, despite the large amount of evidence given to him that proved otherwise.

Instead, Moore began to taunt Timm Gunderson in emails, when Gunderson asked why the county wasn’t following the law to prevent his family from becoming homeless because of illegal businesses.

Gunderson had known to expect cruelty from the enemy in Iraq.

Nothing prepared him for the cruelty he and his family received from his own local government.

The county has no checks and balances to stop this kind of corruption by the county manager.  If Cliff Moore wanted to protect illegal businesses, there was nothing stopping him.

In May, Cliff Moore left Thurston County to become Yakima’s city manager, where he is reported to receive a salary between $165,000-195,000.  He was unanimously chosen by the Yakima City Council.

Retiring County Commissioner Sandra Romero praised Moore as he exited Thurston County: “People respect him, he’s genuinely a good person, and he works harder than just about anybody I’ve ever seen. The Yakima City Council is really fortunate to have him.”

Cliff Moore’s personal project

As Commissioner Sandra Romero was ending her visit to the Gunderson home, she told Timm Gunderson that she was turning the problem over to acting Resource Stewardship Manager Cindy Wilson.

But it was at that point that County Manager Cliff Moore became the sole person to communicate about this with Timm Gunderson, his wife, and me.  We all shared long emails with Moore.

It certainly seemed odd that what should have been a routine report of code violations by unpermitted businesses, generally handled by county staff, was deserving of so much time and attention by the county manager himself.

Why didn’t he just delegate it to the regular employees who handled these things?  How did this become his personal project?

Throughout his communications with us, Cliff Moore kept insisting that there were no code violations on Perkins’ property, so the county wasn’t going to get involved.

That was despite the county codes, shown here, that were apparently being violated by each of Perkins’ two illegal businesses—as well as state environmental and habitat laws, too.

The County Commissioners solution for the Gunderson family—check out homeless services

In mid-March, the County Commissioners “brainstormed” over what to do about the Gunderson family’s desperate situation.

Their solution?  Not to investigate and shut down the illegal operations, as required by county law.  And not to require the owner of the illegal businesses to stop blocking the culvert.

Instead, they decided that the Gunderson family should start looking into homeless services.

The family of a disabled combat vet who had miraculously survived a suicide bomber was being referred to homeless shelters, so some fancy horses and two illegal businesses could stay dry.  That was the Commissioners’ best thinking.

On March 21, SSG Gunderson received this email from Sandra Romero’s assistant – 3-21-16 pilcher to gunderson email re homeless services

Cliff Moore’s unchecked power

Once we got into mid-April, Cliff Moore’s email responses were getting short, snarky and reckless.  He was apparently tired of hearing about all the broken laws that the county wasn’t acting on, that had caused the property damage and health risks at the Gunderson home and neighboring homes.

There was nowhere else for us to turn.  If Cliff Moore said that the county wasn’t going to act on it, then the county wasn’t going to act.  Moore had that kind of unrestrained power.

This was also less than a month away from Moore accepting his higher paying new position as Yakima City Manager.  That job could have been in the works at the time Moore emailed his April 13 response to Gunderson’s latest round of questions.

Moore could have figured he was off to greener pastures anyway, so it didn’t matter what he told Timm Gunderson—even in writing.

But it mattered.  Especially since Timm’s wife had already emailed Moore that they wanted to take legal action against the county for not acting on the damage being caused by the illegal businesses.

Cliff Moore’s April 13 email to SSG Gunderson—he said a lot in a few short words

The following are excerpts from an email exchange between SSG Gunderson and Cliff Moore.  Moore’s responses were on April 13, 2016.

Gunderson:  You say you are working on this issue, but more and more it looks like you are pushing the issue off so you don’t have to deal with it.  Then why have you made all these Laws, Titles and Codes if your not going to enforce them?

Moore:  Enforcement can only occur if there is a violation of county code.  If there were a violation of county code, appropriate steps would be taken.

Click here to see an in-process list of relevant county codes that had been violated on Perkins’ property.

Gunderson:  I am on the verge of being forced out of my home, my septic pump tank is underwater and my primary tank is almost underwater.  When that occurs I will run the risk of flooding inside.  My propane tank is in standing water.  When I run out of propane that’s it they can’t get to it to fill the tank.  I can’t cook or heat my home.  My stove is propane and so is my heater and we don’t have a fire place.  My well house has standing water in it as well.  There are also other homes and residents who are going thru the same….Not all of us have money to go get an apartment to live in until the water goes down.  What is this doing to my property value?

Moore:  The Commissioner’s Office is not in a position to determine property value.

Cliff Moore’s sarcastic response to the Timm Gunderson’s desperate situation speaks for itself.

Gunderson:  I cant go out and pay for rent and pay my mortgage.  I am a Disabled Combat Vet who was blown up in Iraq and live on a fixed income.  What are we suppose to do when you won’t enforce the rules that you put in place?

Moore:  You can pursue this issue as a civil matter.  I understand that Commissioner Romero’s assistant has provided you with information for two local nonprofit organizations that assist with legal issues.

Cliff Moore saying that Gunderson could pursue this as a civil matter is like calling 911 to report a burglary in progress, and hearing that the police won’t be coming–but you can sue the burglar later for the value of anything he stole.

And Commissioner Romero’s assistant hadn’t told him about organizations that assisted with legal issues.  As shown above, she gave Gunderson information for homeless shelters for him and his family.

This is from the email that included Cliff Moore’s April 13 responses to SSG Gunderson’s earlier questions –

4-13-16 response c. moore to sgt. gunderson re no violations, civil matter

In this same email, Moore responded to Gunderson’s question about using a submersible to locate the blockage.

Moore responded:

After considerable and careful staff analysis, and after checking with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, because this is all private property, the determination is still that the county has no legal authority to take or require that any action be taken.

Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim was unaware of any of this until I told him about it.

He requested that I send him all the information that I had about this matter, which I did.  He has forwarded my information to his Civil Division.

However, it will come as quite a happy surprise to all Thurston property owners that they are now free from all these land use regulations, because Moore wrote that the county has no legal authority over private property –

4-13-16 statement from c. moore to sgt. gunderson re - pao opinion on private property actions

What next for the Gunderson family?

Since Cliff Moore has moved on to Yakima, it’s unclear who at the Commissioners’ Office would take over this case.  Public Works Director Ramiro Chavez is now Interim County Manager.

With no checks and balances at the county, especially over the County Manager position, there is no resource for people who have been badly hurt by the county’s abuse of power, like in this case.

And lawsuits are expensive.  That’s why people like Cliff Moore are happy to suggest them to people he knows can’t afford it.

That’s why I’m here, writing this series of articles.

It is up to all of us as a community to make sure that the Commissioners know we won’t stand for this.

SSG Gunderson fought for us, and he paid a terribly high price.

It’s our turn to fight for him.

Click here for contact information for the Thurston County Commissioners and the Interim County Manager.

Click here to go to the facebook page, “Standing with SSG Gunderson.”

Click here to read Part Two, “Thurston diverts $300,000 to save yet another illegal business that floods and pollutes.”

Click here to read part 3, “County Lied About Laws that Would Have Saved Disabled Vet’s Home from Flooding.”

 

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