Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 1 of ?

In Dalton Township, Michigan we currently have corrupt and dishonest government officials attacking small farms and businesses.


It recently came to my attention that the farm that I get goat milk from has been sued by a neighbor and the township. There are three tactics that they have tried to use against Hidden Creek Farm so far. The owners of the farm explain the situation well. Then I will dive into the dishonesty that the township supervisor Tony Barnes has shown so far, the immoral and illegal intimidation tactics that they are using, and what can be done about it. Here's a post that Hidden Creek Farm made on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HiddenCreekFarm/

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Dear friends, family, customers and small farm supporters,

We wanted to give you all an update on the difficult situation we have been dealing with since last Tuesday…

As you know, Lee and I have put our heart and soul into Hidden Creek Farm. Owning a farm that would serve a community with healthy food and practices had been a dream of ours long before we bought the property in Dalton township. While Lee was working his full time job, I diligently started my research in 2013, and spent many hours gathering the information on running a successful farm.

Once we acquired our property at 1230 West River Road, we started the process of becoming environmentally verified through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s MAEAP program. MAEAP (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program) is a voluntary program through the state of Michigan. MAEAP verifies that we are in compliance with farming GAAMPS (Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices) that apply to our farm. We successfully achieved MAEAP Verification in March 2017, after working toward this goal for approximately 2 years. According to the Preface of every GAAMP, “Agricultural producers who voluntarily follow these practices are provided protection from public or private nuisance litigation under the Right to Farm Act.”

We are now entering our 5th year of operations and have never had a complaint, nor have any of our animals run loose without restraint or left our property. At the beginning of the week I received a phone call from Dalton Township. Immediately the next morning I went to the township to hear what the problem was. I found out that a neighbor had filed a COMPLAINT about traffic on West River Road following our prior succulent sale. I also met with 3 township officials in a closed room. Shortly into this meeting I was told that I am not supposed to be operating a farm with animals under the township ordinances, and the upcoming succulent sale would be a safety hazard for the community of Dalton Township. I became overwhelmed and politely excused myself from the meeting at that point.
The next day (Wednesday) at 12:10 pm, I received a voicemail from a lawyer. However, I did not hear that voicemail until around 1:50 pm as I was doing chores. He left a short message that he was about to enter court at 2:00, and he hoped to see me there. I had not received any notices or paperwork at that point. I dropped everything and made it to court. I sat in a courtroom with handcuffed criminals for 2 hours until our case was heard. Mind you, I had no idea why I was even there. To my surprise, there were 2 lawyers. One representing the Township, and one representing our neighbor. Apparently the neighbor’s lawyer went to the township, and shortly thereafter the township hired their own lawyer. The township filed a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) for our upcoming mothers day succulent sale, and also planned to cancel all of our future events. One important fact to note: they are doing this with OUR tax money that we all pay in Dalton Township!

The 2nd lawyer was for the neighbor to the east, who has filed a lawsuit and wants us to shut down all operations at Hidden Creek Farm. They are also trying to sue us for $75,000 in nuisance damages. Again, referring to GAAMPs, “Agricultural producers who voluntarily follow these practices are provided protection from public or private nuisance litigation under the Right to Farm Act.” They claim they have enjoyed a relatively peaceful residential lifestyle but within the last few years we (the Defendants) have changed the way they (the Plaintiffs) now live.

This is the same neighbor who came over on his tractor and helped us plow our field for planting. The piglets were in the exact same location under the shade trees bordering our property lines at that time. All it would have taken for us to move our pigs would have been a simple neighborly visit to let us know of any issues. But that never happened.

When it was my turn to speak, I was told I couldn’t represent myself and I had to find a lawyer in 1 day for the next court date which was scheduled for Friday. Mind you, it was about 5 pm when our court session ended. So, I was scrambling trying to find a lawyer to represent us. All calls made to lawyers went straight to office voicemails. The only person we were able to connect to was an emergency farmers aid hotline (Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund). We’ve been paying members of the FTCLDF for 5 years. This is exactly why we joined! We heard about the FTCLDF after a couple of other Michigan Right to Farm Cases. We arrived home sometime around 6:30 and someone was waiting in our driveway to serve us all the papers from both lawyers.

Thursday became an outpouring of support. A member of the Michigan Small Farm Council was able to connect us with a lawyer that was available and willing to represent us on Friday. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund agreed to retain this lawyer for us. Huge sigh of relief, for at least the Friday court date. We also had the state inspector over from MDARD who again checked out our property and were told we are in complete compliance with applicable GAAMPs. We brought his signed report with us on Friday.

In court Friday afternoon, the Judge honored the TRO in favor of the plaintiffs. We had to post our court ordered cancellation for the Mother’s Day succulent sale (that was to be held the next morning) publicly and on social media. This gave us a very short window of time to find a relocation spot that would be big enough to hold our customers. We want to thank Tony Barnes for helping us find the perfect location in such short notice.

On Wednesday, May 15, we attended the meeting of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development, to ask them to address language in the Farm Markets GAAMP that was used by the court in the decision against us. While the language in this GAAMP could not be addressed during that meeting, the Commissioners did pass a new resolution in support of small farmers being able to sell their farm products on their own land. Specifically, the resolution states that “...it is the position of the Commission that all farm products as defined by the Right to Farm Act grown on a farm may be sold by that farm from that farm’s location and that those activities conform with the Right to Farm Act and the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices.” We have another inspection on Monday, which we hope will find us compliant with all applicable GAAMPs, and able to continue on-farm sales of our products.

So, at this point, we are uncertain about what is to come. We are working on securing legal representation, hopefully with support from the FTCLDF. In the meantime, there is a fellow farmer that has created a “Food Freedom (front) - Join the Quest (back)” t-shirt fundraiser ($25), with 50% of the proceeds going to the Michigan Small Farm Council to help with farm legal fees. Each t-shirt purchase comes with a free Food Freedom sticker (5” oval). PLEASE CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE YOUR T-SHIRT AND HELP SAVE ANOTHER SMALL FARM! https://www.loyaltees.clothing/food-freedom

We encourage everyone to check out the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/, and the Michigan Small Farm Council (free membership) at http://www.michigansmallfarmcouncil.org/ Become members and/or donate if you are able and know that both of these organizations are there to support us if/when we find ourselves in situations like this. There is a very strong small farms network here in Michigan!

Hidden Creek Farm exists to serve our local community, and without your support we would not be going into our 5th year of farming. Please keep us in your thoughts as we maneuver through this difficult situation. We will post updates as we are able and would like to ask you to join us in our Quest for Food Freedom!

Sincerely Lee and Crystal @ Hidden Creek Farm

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The worst part about this is that it's not the first time this has been done. And if we don't do something, then it will keep happening to more and more people in the community, good people.

After I became sick in Africa in 2015, the help that I received from Hidden Creek Farm has been instrumental in my recovery. I'm not the only story like that, there are dozens, or maybe hundreds, of people that have been helped by or have enjoyed Crystal and Lee's farm. It's the support of these good people that is required to keep small farms protected from government overreach and corruption.

Luckily, Mark Baker of Baker's Green Acres has been able to begin helping Crystal and Lee, and has made some great videos about the issue. The Fox 17 News network has picked up the story and has been able to inform people. But, that's not enough, not nearly enough.

Standing up to tyranny can be a scary thing. But, if good people don't stand up against tyranny then tyranny will rule the day. I cannot accept that in myself. I cannot stand back while the township harasses and intimidates good people and do nothing.

Here are the three basic tactics that the township has used so far:

1) Dishonesty, secrecy, and lying. Crystal was not served papers that she was being sued. She received an email just hours before the appointed court time. The idea here is that she wouldn't see the email in time and wouldn't be able to make the court date. If she didn't show up then the judge would have no choice but to rule against her. This is essentially a con game that the lawyers of the township and neighbor Ken tried to pull on the judge. Such immoral and illegal tactics aren't acceptable at any level of government.

In addition to all of that, the township supervisor Tony Barnes has been repeatedly lying to people and telling them that the township is not suing Hidden Creek Farm. They are suing them, there is a paper signed by township board members, and they cite multiple reasons for suing the farm. This type of lying is often expected in politicians, but it shouldn't be. It's still immoral, and there is something we can do about it in our township.

2) Intimidation. Since Crystal read the email only minutes before the time that she was to appear in court she didn't have a lawyer. A farm helper that went with her didn't even have his wallet and ID on him because he was in work pants and they had to leave the minute that she saw the email. Then, the lawyers from the township and neighbor Ken tried to get her to sign papers without a lawyer in a secluded room of the courthouse. This surprise and attack method is effective intimidation, and completely unacceptable.

3) Bankruptcy. Since the dishonesty, secrecy, lying, and intimidation haven't worked against Crystal and Lee, the township has decided to pursue their third method of destroying community farms and businesses, money! They have issued a restraining order against Hidden Creek Farm, stopping them from conducting business events. This lowers the amount of money that the farm can make. Also, since they are being sued, they have to start paying legal fees.

Now, think about this, where does the township get its money from? The citizens. That means that the taxes of the citizens are being used to sue this farm. Does a farmer stand a chance against the deep pockets of a government funded by public taxes? No. The township aims to bleed the farm to death by reducing their business and draining their savings through legal fees.

What can a citizen do?

First, I'll cover what I'm doing. Then, I'll cover what everyone needs to do to fight this type of government corruption.

I emailed the clerk of Dalton Township and requested a spot on the agenda for the June 10th Township Board Meeting. Here's my email.

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I would like to request 5 to 10 minutes on the agenda for the June 10th meeting to address the board and attendees concerning the township's policy toward small farms.

Jeff Martin

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I am a citizen of the township, so I have the right to speak at the board meeting. But, they would prefer that the citizens they are trying to intimidate be quiet and docile. So, they are limiting my speaking time as much as they can.

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Jeff

Anyone wishing to speak on an matter, at any board meeting, is always welcome to speak during public comment.

Kim

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It's interesting to note that in the last couple of days the township opened that email 19 times, but they still spelled "any" wrong when they responded.

You can only speak for three minutes in the public comment section. And the township wishes they could take that time away from me too. So, I decided that I needed to do more. I bought a website today specifically to address this issue. It should be started in the next 48 hours and will continue to be developed. Sign up for the mailing list as soon as the site is up so that we can start organizing.

FixDalton.com

I also made a public Facebook event for citizens to be aware of and attend the board meeting: https://www.facebook.com/events/802517473467484/

And, there is now a Concerned Citizens of Dalton Township Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2275100969473041/

I can make a speech and start a website, but I'm going to need help too. I know that the township supervisor Tony Barnes has earned the reputation of being dishonest over his last few years in office. He's the most dangerous type of politician, one that isn't attached to the truth, one that thinks he's above the law and can make the law, and he's articulate. Almost everyone that talks to him thinks he's a good guy, even when he's lying to them about suing innocent local farmers. I know that the township has been using these same tactics against other local farms and businesses. We need to collect and organize these stories of moral and legal violations.

We also need to file an official complaint against the corrupt activities that the township board is currently involved in. This list should be written out, it should be made available for citizens to sign, and it should be presented at the township board meeting.

Standing up for citizens rights is an anxiety provoking proposition. I know, because I'm afraid of the township coming after me and harassing me. Local farmers and business people are especially afraid of the township targeting them if they get involved. But, let me ask you this, how long before they come after you anyway?

This type of tyranny and corruption is like a weed that grows in a garden. When it's small you might not notice it. But, as it grows it slowly reaches it tendrils further and further, grabbing everything that it can, choking the life out of your flowers and vegetables, and slowing killing everything that was good in your garden. At no point is it fun to root out the weed, but it must be done, and the sooner the better.

Good government requires constant vigilance on the part of citizens to make sure that the weed of corruption is not growing and taking root. We have failed in Dalton Township. Yes, it's a moral failing on the part of the township board members, but it's also a moral failing on the part of the citizens that have not noticed and have not taken action, and it's a failing on my part. But, it is possible to be redeemed. All that is required is to be aware and to act.

June 10th at 6pm there is a Dalton Township board meeting. There is a meeting every month. Coming there and being present is making a difference. It's not necessary to speak, support the people who are speaking. Signing a list of moral and legal failings that the township board is guilty of is making a difference. Signing a petition to recall the corrupted members of the board is making a difference. Showing up to the election and voting in representatives with moral fiber is making a difference. Citizens can and do make a difference, all it takes is organization and action.

Here are the notes that I'm organizing for my speech at the meeting.

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tyranny, weed in the garden, grows from bottom soviet solzhenitsyn, moral failing of officials and citizens representative, strength plus morality, immoral actors, eternal vigilance, opportunity for change, injustice, universal individual rights, due process, small farmers and small businesses as cornerstones of community, ukrainian famine, the worst kind of politician dishonest corrupt and articulate, do not underestimate give the devil his due, sets an area precedent and example concern of everyone in the area, bastiat legal corruption, grover cleveland, prometheus

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Standing aside in the face of tyranny only means that you will suffer more, later. Standing up to tyranny and corruption means voluntarily confronting the problem that has been placed before us and rising to the challenge. I encourage you to stand with me.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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