By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
A controversy is developing in Cornwallis, Washington where residents of a neighborhood bordering the army’s Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) say the city council’s latest ordinance is yet another example of an overreaching government.
During the Christmas recess the mayor called a midnight city council meeting, with no public notice, and reportedly of all places in a Seattle pub. After seven exhausting hours the council voted 5 to 4 to enact a law that was purportedly intended to ease the severe traffic jams along Interstate 5 which runs through JBLM. But these intentions some believe were not so benevolent.
The law allocated nine tracts of park land to build high density housing for military personnel and their families. The land is just west of the Berkeley Bridge and soldiers going to and from the base would not need to use I-5. However the land is platted within the realm of the Lafayette neighborhood and its homeowner’s association. Residents angrily objected to their former park being taken over by the city, and in response turned to a relatively unknown civil rights advocacy group, the No Quartering Association, (NQA) to seek redress for the city violating the Third Amendment’s prohibition of quartering soldiers in citizens’ homes. Unfortunately for them, the worst was yet to come.
During a bitter council meeting in late February, Mayor George LeRoi III defended the council’s vote saying it was a matter of eminent domain, and the city had the authority to do so. Lafayette Neighborhood Association President Jeff Madison countered stating of the Mayor:
HE has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good by passing other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people. He’s more like a tyrant than a mayor.
It soon became evident Mayor George was not going to relent. The homeowners association had little resources or money to stand up to this political machine. But luckily the president of the civil rights advocacy group No Quartering Association, happened to read of this in the local newspaper The Cornwallis Courant. He offered pro-bono their services.
NQA President Charlton Weston, himself a former prison official from New York, said this was a disturbing and growing trend in the United States: “Ever since Engblom v. Carey we had hoped local government would respect our Third Amendment rights. But now we are seeing the confiscatory trend growing across the United States under the auspices of the War on Terrorism. This city is acting in a most sinister manner, using one constitutional amendment to thwart another amendment: The Fifth Amendment [eminent domain] against the Third.”
During a pro-Third Amendment rally hosted in Lafayette Park demanding the removal of the soldiers’ quarters, city police broke up the demonstration and sent residents home. They confiscated banners, megaphones and other property of the citizens. A fight broke out between Charton Weston and several out of towners loyal to Mayor George. Weston was arrested and put into irons. He is being held in custody and so far has not been granted a trial of his peers.
The controversy worsened when Mayor George hastened the enforcement of the law by allowing soldiers to store their boats and vehicles in the garages, stables, and liveries of Lafayette residents. Dolly, the wife of the association president, looked on as a soldier parked his boat trailer alongside her driveway, saying: “The mayor has endeavoured to force his will upon citizens through the city council. These are most intolerable acts!”
Soon increasing numbers of soldiers began knocking on residents’ doors, demanding to be housed while the soldier’s quarters were being constructed. Army staff sergeant David Arnold, frustrated with the housing situation went door to door looking for a place to live. “The I-5 commute situation is terrible,” he said banging on the door of a Colonial Style house “All I want is to spend more time with my family and not behind the wheel. These people should support their troops.”
Police began haranguing citizens who lawfully assembled demanding their grievances be addressed. In one incident police confiscated an i-phone a child used to video record an officer. Mayor George even threatened to shut down The Cornwallis Courant newspaper and later sent kids home from school for wearing pro-third amendment and NQA logos on their tee shirts.
Lafayette residents managed to bail out NQA president Charlton Weston and held a torchlight vigil outside Mayor George’s residence that became increasingly vocal and agitated. Police and Soldiers from JBLM’s Third Calvary and the Second Dragoon Squadron arrived and surrounded the crowd. The mayor alighted from a second story window, yelling to the crowd: “Ye citizens are a most arrogant mob. Your actions will go down in the Almanacks of Time as ungrateful. Go home forthwith, else suffer arrest. In a fortnight, you will welcome these soldiers into your home. Providence dictates this.”
Faced with the soldiers’ dilemma of confronting their fellow citizens and for the police remaining loyal to the increasingly unpopular Mayor George, they both broke rank and switched sides; joining the citizens in declaring their independence from this increasingly belligerent mayor.
During the next town meeting, the city council unanimously voted to oust Mayor George giving him the severance package of a travel voucher and ran him out of town on a commuter rail. He said he plans to remain in his ancestral homeland on the other side of the water of Puget Sound.
Victorious, NQA president Weston walked up to the podium at a rally and proudly read to the audience the Third Amendment to the US Constitution:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
In front of the reveling crowd Charlton Weston held aloft the shiny, jingling symbol of the struggle facing all supporters of the Third Amendment: declaring in his most famous words:
They can have my house keys, when they pry them from my cold dead hands!
The City of Cornwallis, Washington would like to wish you all a happy April Fool’s Day!
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.