Eminent Domain, Once Again
Saturday, March 11, 2006 :::
In this morning's TD is this item regarding an eminent domain case in Cumberland County:
Cumberland County's efforts to reclaim a school it sold at auction three years ago took a turn yesterday when the school superintendent appeared at the property to claim ownership.
Mary Meeks, the property's disputed owner, said she was intimidated by the actions of Superintendent James Thornton and others who showed up at the former elementary school without any warning. The school sits just off the north side of U.S. 60 in Cumberland, the county seat.
Why the County wants to reclaim the building and land is not clear from the article. What is clear is that local governments remain quite high-handed when it comes to seizing land:
The county filed a condemnation suit and a certificate of taking against the property this week and deposited $200,000, the amount it estimates the property is worth, with the Cumberland County Circuit Court. Those filings, said Robert Hodges, the county's lawyer, gives ownership of the property to the county.
Not so, says Joe Waldo, the Meekses' lawyer, a property-rights advocate from Norfolk. Unless the Meekses relinquish the property willingly, the county cannot take it without a hearing and a court order, Waldo said.
State law, he said, says the county can get title to the property but only after the Meekses get due process.
Mary Meeks called county Sheriff Claude Meinhard to the school, and after Meinhard talked with Waldo on the phone and later with the superintendent, the county officials left. "They didn't apologize, but they left," she said.
Meeks said the officials told her that their attorney had told them they now owned the property.
Interesting. It would be very, very helpful to understand why the County wants this parcel back, and I will have the opportunity to ask Waldo this at the next TMG meeting.
However, as the article mentions, this case comes at a time when the GA is still debating a property rights fix, one that may or may not be decided today. I spoke with a legislator last night who said that there is still hope a strong bill will be approved, though I must say that the likelihood of that occurring is somewhat grim.
This is deeply disturbing on many different levels. Not only are there those in the GA who seem intent on preserving as much latitude as possible for local governments to condemn property, they are going out of their way to preserve that discretion...at the expense of private property owners.
Attorney General Bob McDonnell said that one of the problems in this debate was that there were too many people without law degrees weighing in on the issue. That's rich. If anything, the problem isn't the lack of framed diplomas...it's a lack of respect for what's right...and an appreciation of fundamental principles.
There is still the very slim chance the GA will discover that perspective. But I do not hold out a great deal of hope.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 3/11/2006