From the September 1999 Idaho Observer:

Septic permit debate teaches important lesson

If a "law" seems too absurd to be real, maybe it isn't

by Don Harkins

By 1999 Americans have been conditioned to accept that their lives will be complicated by the dictates of government bureaucrats and that no matter how absurd the "law" seems, it is best to simply comply because "you just can't fight city hall."

Sonja Razey found out otherwise. All a person has to do when a bureaucrat tells you to jump through silly hoops while balancing a red ball on your nose is to politely ask to see the law which gives them the authority to be complicating your life in the first place.

The next time a bureaucrat starts to waste your time and money with administrative nonsense that to violate, they might tell you, will mean fines or imprisonment, question their authority because you may find that they don't have any.

On November 25, 1998, Naches, WA, resident Sonja Razey received a threatening two-paragraph letter from Panhandle Health Environmental Specialist Lorne Braun stating that, "A search of my records indicates that you have not obtained a septic tank permit from the Panhandle Health District for the septic system that serves your mobile home located .... in Bonner County."

The letter went on to say that, "A septic tank permit must be obtained from our agency and the system must be opened for inspection within 15 days of receipt of this letter or legal action will be taken. If you have any questions regarding this matter please call me at 265-6384."

Razey's property is totally paid for, taxes are current, nothing is owed and there are no loans on or against it. Razey, who was already irritated at the unnecessarily nasty tone to the letter and the fact that Braun referred to her as Ms. Razey rather than Mrs. Razey, reflected on the advice of a legislator she heard speaking a few years back. "He said to 'check out their authority' where bureaucrats are concerned. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do considering that what I do on my private property is not public business," Razey said.

Razey, addressing a two-paragraph reply letter to M. Braun dated December 14, 1998, simply asked him to "Please acquaint me with the Idaho Statute(s) requiring the existence of a septic tank on private property. Personal perusal of this legislation will be required prior to the obtaining of any such permits or inspections as your letter indicates."

The last paragraph humorously reads, "In the event that the required information is not forwarded within twenty days of receipt of this letter, it will be deduced that in fact no rules actually exist and appropriate eliminatory actions will be taken with regard to your correspondence."

Obviously not amused, Bruan responded by letter December 18, 1998, by supplying the "law" and the threat that failure to respond "within 15 days of receipt of this letter will result in legal action."

Braun forwarded copies of Title 39, Chapter 1 and Title 39, Chapter 36 of Idaho Code and directed Razey's attention to section 01.03002.04.

Although a person might give the authorities the benefit of the doubt after reading the law, there is no wording in the law that can be construed to state that there must be a septic tank on private property and Razey told Braun as much in her reply letter of January 5, 1999. "Given the absence of evidence of any lawful authority, any further threatening communications will be considered harrassment and appropriate action will be taken."

Braun responded January 12 by acknowledging that Razey does not believe that she has to have a septic tank on private property but that, "The legal authority does exist and failure to comply by obtaining a valid permit and installing a proper subsurface sewage system will result in legal action."

Apparently unable to deal with the audacity of a woman who questioned his authority to properly channel people's bowel movements, Braun brought the State of Idaho Division of Building Safety's Plumbing Bureau into this war of words.

In a letter dated February 1, 1999, the Plumbing Bureau informed (Ms.) Razey that she owed fees totalling $116 for three permits that she must secure by February 19 "In order to avoid the additional expenses of litigation." Plumbing Bureau Chief Joe Meyer continued, "I would encourage you to immediately remit payment in the full amount of the unpaid fees."

Razey fired the final salvo to (M.) Meyer February 7, 1999. She began the letter by stating that she wanted to see the law that required her to have a septic tank on private property and that she was not aware that the Plumbing Bureau provided sewer and water services in that area.

Razey closed the letter by stating, "To avoid any further unpleasantness, I would encourage you to forward immediately the pertinent statutes and/or codes. If they actually exist, it should be no problem for you. If they in fact do not, this matter will appear to be attempted extortion complicated by attempted intimidation bordering on harassment, and possible litigation will be contemplated."

According to Razey, there has been no further correspondence between herself, Panhandle Health or the Plumbing Bureau regarding this matter.

"It seemed important to me that I not challenge the permit process or the (questionable) legitimacy of the bureaus and departments, and I did not ask for specification, either. I did not say, as they did, that legal action 'will' occur. My intention was to warn without actually threatening. I simply asked them to show me the law which they could not do," explained Razey.

"I would definitely recommend that anybody challenging any bureaucracy should read what the law actually says. Don't take the agent's word, the neighbor's word or my word for it, and don't settle for a summary. Most of the law is written in the American language and some if it surprising."

Razey has reinforced what we should already know: Always question authority.

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