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 Bad Local Government Putting Innocent People in Jail?

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PostSubject: Bad Local Government Putting Innocent People in Jail?   Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:02 pm

This is a perfect example of bad government not responding to the needs of its citizens.

Carver County couple refuse to fix their septic system

Facing a jail threat, a Carver County couple say they won't obey a judge's order to upgrade their system. They say the law is not handled consistently.

A battle between Carver County and a Chanhassen couple over a faulty septic system escalated Thursday as the homeowners said they won't budge in the face of a judge's order to upgrade their system within two weeks or go to jail indefinitely.

"We're not fixing it," said 75-year-old Lowell Carlson following a hearing with Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins.

His wife, Janet, agreed.

"My husband said we're not going to fix it, so I guess that's it," she said.

The couple had been scheduled to go to jail Thursday evening to begin serving 30-day sentences for not following a previous court order to fix the decades-old system on their farm in Norwood Young America.

But they were summoned to court Thursday morning, and Perkins gave them two more weeks to comply. After that, he warned, their sentences would be open-ended. They could get out of jail only if they complied with the county's orders.

"You would, in effect, have the keys to the jail," the judge told them.

The couple, who represented themselves in court, raised a sticky question: What would happen if Lowell proves physically unable to serve time in jail? Janet Carlson, 69, said that her husband has breathing problems and other ailments and that her doctor has said he fears for Lowell's life if he goes to jail.

The judge strongly urged the couple to hire a lawyer to address the medical issue as quickly as possible before the Oct. 16 deadline.

Otherwise, Perkins said, there could be mass confusion if the court and the jail had to decide what to do if Lowell Carlson has a doctor's order prohibiting his incarceration.

"The doctor's already said that Lowell will die if he goes to jail," Janet Carlson said after the hearing. "So I guess it will just be me going in. You know, I haven't been inside of a jail yet in my life. So I guess I had to wait until I was 69."

The Carlsons, who bought the farm several years ago, have steadfastly refused to fix the system there in protest over what they say are inequities in how thousands of septic systems are regulated and administered in Carver County.

They claim that county enforcement of its own ordinances is spotty and that in some cases people are given variances or approval despite their systems not being in compliance with state laws.

"I just don't understand," Janet Carlson said in court. "There is no consistency. Why do some people get by with it and others don't?"

Assistant County Attorney Laura Jaunich told Perkins the Carlsons' arguments have no merit or bearing on the hearing, which was to address the contempt of court charges. "The Carlsons have not complied with the court order," Jaunich said.

But the Carlsons said they are willing to go to jail for their principles -- and because they believe the county is not even abiding by its own statutes.

They point to the county's purchase of the Waconia ballroom, which they say has the same type of system as theirs and the same problem: a lack of adequate separation between the septic system drainfield pipes and the groundwater below it.

"Why do we have to fix ours if the county doesn't fix theirs?" Janet Carlson asked the judge on Thursday. "I don't think that's very kosher."

Neither does County Commissioner Tom Workman, who also believes the county is in violation of its statutes and has been trying to get his fellow commissioners to fix the ballroom septic system.

On Thursday, Workman said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has agreed to look into the ballroom system. The state agency has requested the county's file on the $2.5 million purchase of the ballroom and its septic system, which Workman and others believe is closer to the underground water table than the 36 inches allowed by law.

Workman said e-mails from the MPCA indicate a decision on launching a full investigation could come next week.

Life or death decision

Regardless of the merits of the Carlsons' claims about the county, neither the judge nor the Carver County attorney's office was sympathetic. Perkins told them to fix their septic system -- a job estimated to cost about $10,000 -- or report to jail at 9 a.m. Oct. 16.

He also told them that the arguments they made about the county's septic system policies had already been adjudicated and had no bearing on their contempt case.

"The issues you are raising are either too late or not in the proper form," Perkins said. "That train has already left the station. The contempt order is what is out there."

Heron Marquez Estrada 612-673-4280
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