This past week Fauquier County passed a new farm sales ordinance following over a year of drama that reached across Virginia and even the United States.
The ordinance slightly expands farmers’ rights to sell farm goods.
That is why the county supervisors failed the test. They still think they can dish out rights.
They also believe zoning ordinances exist to allow the county to use discriminatory enforcement against some citizens, and give favor to others, groups, and real estate proprietors.
The farm sales ordinance, coming under the threat of state legislation and lawsuits, shows that the supervisors still hold their profoundly wrong view of their power.
The message they send: Don’t speak out against the county government, or we’ll enforce the laws strictly against you, but your neighbor who “behaves” politically will be allowed to break the laws.
This is, in essence, the same way the Obama administration enforces the law. That the county is controlled by Republicans shows that abuse of power can be quite bipartisan.
The problem is twofold. The core of the Virginia Code governing how counties may enforce zoning ordinances was developed in 1962. Virginia was under Democrat control, and this was five years before the United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.
A reading of the Virginia Code shows that it was set up to enable local governments to discriminate in their enforcement of zoning laws. The Code allows counties to use ‘Kangaroo Courts’ for administrative enforcement and appeals. The Code allows counties to deprive citizens of due process, which means that counties can discriminate against some, and provide favors to others. County justice is not blind.
The second part of the equation is that our supervisors in varying degrees still don’t understand basic American concepts of law and rights.
American law was designed to protect rights while protecting against harms. Like the Obama administration, Fauquier’s supervisors seem to believe that rights are to be granted by government, and that the law is not meant to protect against harms but to allow government to control and coerce the people.
Chairman Holder Trumbo used the debate about the farm sales ordinance as a chance to remark that perhaps we should not have zoning laws.
Perhaps some real estate developers want to build strip malls where farms exist, and perhaps Chairman Trumbo is willing to relinquish the county’s rural nature for more tax revenues to cover the county debt under his reign.
But farmers and the people of Fauquier who love its rural character want to preserve farm land. That, however, requires that farmers be free to earn a living rather than have their mortgages foreclosed. We preserve farm land by letting farmers earn a living. Farmers, not the county, know how to do this best.
Property can be zoned without giving Zoning Czar Kim Johnson the authority to fine farmers selling a few tomatoes too many, or for birthday parties. Zoning laws are not to be used to peer into the finances of farmers, which this new ordinance seems to do by giving Johnson discretion. Zoning also must not deprive farmers the rights that other citizens enjoy.
This recent ordinance shows that our officials are not equipped to fix the larger underlying problems in Fauquier County. Business owners, for example, still can’t park their business vehicles at their homes, and the county has failed to provide water for business districts, which impedes commercial activity in commercial districts.
There are dozens of examples of how the county has inserted its nose where it doesn’t belong, and has failed to provide the basic services it should.
No county is perfectly run, but not all counties in Virginia are run in this dysfunctional way. We need leaders with better governing principles.
Nobody wants Richmond running the county, but this ordinance shows that Richmond must place controls on local control, including civil remedies against counties and wayward officials.