“Civil penalties are nothing new.” This is stated at every meeting with the Thurston County commissioners regarding Title 26. These statements are half-truths, as demonstrated by county resident Ken Morse speaking at the April 7 meeting of the board. Quoting Commissioner Cathy Wolfe asking county manager Cliff Moore from a previous meeting, “Am I correct that Title 26 is only civil penalties and not criminal?” Moore replied, “It doesn’t add any criminal penalties.” Moore did not answer the question correctly.
Civil penalties are criminal penalties. Title 26 states “any person who violates a provision of Thurston County Codes… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” A misdemeanor is a criminal offense. This is reinforced by “the director may request that the prosecuting attorney commence a criminal prosecution …” “Clearly, this code criminalizes,” Morse said, quoting from Title 26.
Septic violations are referenced by county staff to illustrate how civil penalties are used. Septic violations are public health issues dealt with by TCEH regulation. What is not said is what I learned from Cliff Moore. In an after-meeting conversation, Mr. Moore stated to me, “We are applying civil penalties to land use. We need them.” This is what has not been directly stated before.
Thurston County wants the power to criminally prosecute residents on the private use of their land. That is what is different. What’s more, violations come with a hefty penalty that can accrue daily under Title 26.