Shield of Distorted Law

Eminent domain reveals itself through an army of appraisers, accountants, lawyers, judges, and gun welding deputies. It has power because it stands on the threat of deadly force.


The September 25th Atlanta Journal Constitution article below is a primer on how government, or the law, improperly and immorally uses force at the local level. This example exposes the abuse of a very real power we have delegated to county governments. The power is eminent domain. It reveals itself through an army of appraisers, accountants, lawyers, judges, and gun welding deputies. It has power because it stands on the threat of deadly force.

As individuals, we have a natural right to defend our lives, property, and freedom. This right does not come from government. It is a principle of natural law (unalienable rights), and it was asserted in the Magna Charta and Declaration of Independence.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (property)-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.

Individuals do not have a right to forcefully take another person’s property. In such a struggle, only the party defending against theft can claim to be just. The same is true for government. Government, or law, is simply two or more individuals combining their separate rights. Government/law is nothing more than the organized right of individuals to defend their lives and property.

Government is on the wrong side of justice when it uses force, or the threat of force, to take from one to give to another. This is true no matter how noble the cause. Using a pistol to obtain a neighbor’s property to buy food for a dying family is robbery. Using the law to obtain a neighbor’s property to build schools is robbery.

Local governments hide their theft by claiming a greater good. How can government make this claim and we cannot? Using government to plunder private property is an immorality and gross distortion of justice.

We ordained government. Government law must be subordinate to us. An individual cannot grant rights he does not have to someone else. If it is wrong for me to steal your property, I cannot morally delegate its theft to a subordinate, i.e. the county government.

Would you use the threat of deadly force to make somebody sell their private property to you? The governments we created are doing just that. This is the modus operandi of a criminal organization.

Defensive government and just law have become a myth. It is time to put government in its subordinate place by withdrawing our delegated power. Demand an end to county school system use of eminent domain laws. It is time for deputies to point their public guns toward criminals who plunder private property under the shield of distorted law.

Your land, until schools come after it
by D. Alieen Dodd

Published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on September 25, 2005

Joel Scales wasn’t the kind of neighbor who cared about mowing the grass or hiding the vintage cars rusting on his property.

He figured his home near Lake Lanier was his castle. For 25 years, he says, he protected his family’s 63 acres like a guard dog snarling at trespassers. He snapped at nosy neighbors who criticized his landscaping. He growled at developers who wanted to turn his back yard into a subdivision, and he slammed down the phone on real estate agents’ feverish sales pitches.

Scales, 58, thought he had made it clear: There was no “For Sale” sign on the property. But when Gwinnett County Schools came knocking, they didn’t take no for an answer. They took Scales to court and had his land condemned.

Crowded campuses and a growing enrollment, expected to reach 162,000 students by 2010, is driving the county to take unusual steps to find land for new schools. More often than in the past, the county is relying on what used to be a last resort and forcing land deals. Through the process of condemnation, a judge can compel the sale of a property for public use and the courts can decide a fair price.

According to Gwinnett County Superior Court documents, at least four of the 10 sites acquired by the county in the past year were purchased through condemnation proceedings. The owner of a fifth tract said he sold his family home and 18 acres in Buford only after school officials threatened to condemn the property.

“As land becomes more difficult to acquire and the county becomes more developed, condemnations may become more frequent, especially in order to set the price,” Gwinnett Schools Chief Operations Officer Jim Steele said in a statement.

Most metro Atlanta school systems say they try to avoid condemning land, because the process can create resentful neighbors. “We don’t think that is the best way to work,” said Stanley Pritchett, DeKalb County’s associate school superintendent for operations.

Last week, Fulton County Schools threatened to condemn a 19-acre site in Sandy Springs owned by the Weber School, a private school that had turned down an $18.7 million offer. After Weber School officials publicly vowed to fight, the public schools backed down.

Gwinnett school officials, on the other hand, have been quietly buying land without discussing or voting on the purchases in public.

Scales and his family received $6.97 million for their 63 acres last June. But the General Motors plant retiree says selling his land was a nightmare. “Nobody was looking for no money,” Scales snapped. “I was going to live here until I took the dirt nap.”

Now Scales, a reluctant millionaire who still wears dirt-smudged work shirts, chugs beer and eats bologna sandwiches for dinner, says he has until the end of the month to pack up his home and memories. He says he and his sisters, who owned the property together, are third-generation victims of condemnation. Land their grandparents once held dear was used to develop Lake Lanier. Their father also lost property to lake expansion projects.

‘Not the American way’

More Gwinnett residents with a back yard large enough for a school could soon face the same situation. Gwinnett County Schools plans to build between 30 and 35 schools by 2012. Ten of those sites have been acquired. At least four of the properties have houses on them.

One of those houses used to belong to James Dutton, 62, of Buford. When school officials came to call, Dutton said, he knew his days on his property would be numbered. He fought the condemnation as best he could, but when the school system threatened to take him to court, he said, he gave in.

“I don’t feel it is right for them [school officials] to come in and say we are going to condemn your property and take it. It’s not the American way,” he said. “If an individual wants to sell to them, it’s OK. If not, they need to find something that’s available somewhere else.”

The land Dutton sold is where he built his family home, a modest brick ranch, on two acres along a gravel road some 35 years ago. He started a family there. And as he could afford it, he bought extra acreage.

Eventually, the retired shipping clerk had amassed 20 acres. “I bought it to hold on to for my kids. I just wanted to have something to leave them,” said Dutton. Other homeowners, such as Bob and Martha Dee Whitaker, agreed to sell to Gwinnett. The Whitakers joined family members in selling 50 acres, including Martha’s father’s childhood home, to the school system for $3.1 million. They had the permits to build their dream house, a three-bedroom Victorian, on the property and retire there. Now they will build in Oxford instead.

“It was a little disappointing,” Bob Whitaker said, “but I realize it is for the better good.”

Gwinnett school officials say they try to avoid displacing families as they build new classrooms. When school officials initiated condemnation proceedings on 90-year-old Joe T. Payne’s property in Buford, for example, Payne worked out a deal to sell about 17 acres and keep his home. Payne said the family still has 13 acres. His children have houses on the site.

The school system does not include the Payne property in its count of land acquired through condemnation, because the two sides agreed on a sale price. “We filed just to get access to the property,” explained Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett public schools.

The Payne family said splitting the $2.3 million they made in the deal won’t change their lifestyles. They have no plans to leave Buford for the Bahamas. One said she will add a fresh coat of paint to her home.

“This is not some windfall where we are all going to take a vacation. It wouldn’t be right to squander it. Daddy worked too hard,” said Gretchen Hall, Payne’s daughter. “My sister’s house is paid for; my brother’s house is paid for. Nobody needed this money.”

Spittin’ mad

Using condemnation to build new schools is a necessary evil, especially for growing systems like Gwinnett competing with developers for large tracts of land, said Larry Keating, Georgia Tech city and regional planning professor.

“What is the alternative?” Keating asked. ” If they were to follow market forces or choose from what is currently available, they probably wouldn’t end up with a very sensible or efficient distribution of schools. This way they can space the schools more evenly in response to population density.”

Population is a key consideration for locating new schools. Gwinnett school demographers study growth and development patterns to identify which schools need relief. A “ground zero” is then determined as a beginning point for the site search. All suitable parcels of land in the area are evaluated. The top three sites fitting size and other criteria are presented to the school board.

The board votes in closed session to authorize school officials to buy the property, a practice Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker has said violates the state’s Open Meetings Act. School officials say they don’t agree and don’t plan to change their procedures.

Scales said he wonders if open discussion of school land purchases would have helped him and some of his neighbors save their back yards. He can recite their names like the casualties of suburban land wars. He says most of them just wanted to be property owners and never intended to live “high on the hog.”

Once school district land scouts came looking for large tracts in his community, Scales and his neighbor Grady Howington commiserated on the phone. “I knew they were after his property and he knew they were after mine,” Scales said.

Eventually, the school system condemned Howington’s 26 acres, too. “I’d rather them take a gun and blow my head off,” Howington said.

The former cotton farmer said he’s had trouble sleeping since the sale. Sometimes, he wakes up spittin’ mad and heads to his barn to work off the anger. Though Howington was paid $3 million for the land he used to plow with a mule, he still puts on his work boots and performs odd jobs for pay. The 68-year-old says he would gladly give the school system’s check back if he could keep his land.

“I feel like someone who has been run over by a freight train with ‘Gwinnett County School Board’ stamped on the front of it,” he said. “If you were forced to sell your property, how do you think you would feel?”