If somebody filed a complaint against you, wouldn’t you want to know who it was? Deschutes County actually allows complaints for some code violations to remain anonymous forever. And it allows complaints to be kept sealed in all other cases until after they are resolved.
We believe the county’s policy should change.
The county is in the process of updating its code enforcement procedures. It’s looking for feedback from the public.
County Administrator Tom Anderson told us that one issue is how the county should handle anonymous complaints.
The county gets about 300 code violation issues a year. About 85 percent of those are resolved without any citation or injunction. Only about one case a year ends up in an injunction.
Code violations could be anything from garbage on a property to building a barn without a permit. There are more serious health and safety issues, such as failing septic systems or people illegally residing in a building.
For those health and safety violations, the county allows the complaints to remain forever anonymous. All other complaints remain sealed until after they are resolved.
The county never takes any action, in any case, until a county employee verifies on site that a possible violation is taking place.
We know people can feel uncomfortable about making a complaint against a neighbor. The county’s policy of allowing anonymity, though, could be used unfairly to try to drum up a steady stream of county code officers visiting someone’s property.
The U.S. Constitution also provides under the Sixth Amendment that in a criminal prosecution a person has the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. We’re not suggesting the county’s policy violates the Constitution, but the Sixth Amendment exists to ensure that government is not oppressive and trials will be fair and reliable.
The county’s policy tilts toward protecting the accuser at the clear expense of fairness to the accused. Unless the county can clearly demonstrate that serious code violations will go unchecked, the policy should no longer allow anonymous or temporarily anonymous complaints.