City Council Investigates Code Officer

Kristy Tallman

During the City Council meeting held on Feb. 13, residents Karen Jones, Heather Kelly and Calvin Ames raised serious allegations against the city’s code enforcement officer, Blake Dawson, regarding his handling of enforcement actions, making threats, and damaging personal property. The accusations were particularly poignant in relation to property at 1188 55th Ave, owned by Calvin Ames.

Jones, a resident from the county, came forward to express solidarity with Ames and shed light on similarities between his situation and her own experiences with code enforcement in Lebanon.

“We dealt with it in Lebanon also,” Jones said, “same sort of situation. We live in the county, it’s hard for us to get out. There were a lot of people involved in it. Ours, people, places and things. They had us all integrated, removed some cars and removed some things from the property. And then it came down to going into court again. They said that they did dismiss it all for deficient notice of the situation. The attorney there or the judge in Lebanon, they wanted to go to the state for information, like start over with the State Department. And this guy had private property that I’m talking about, and his private property laws go into effect in that situation. So it was pretty complicated. Anyway, I just was here to support Calvin and Ben’s situation because it involves sort of the same situation.”

Kelly, another resident at 1188 55th Ave. provided first hand testimony about encounters with Dawson. She alleged that despite her repeated interactions with Dawson during his visits to the property, he claimed an inability to identify responsible parties. Kelly further asserted that Dawson refused to collaborate with her, even though she was in a long-term relationship with Ames. Moreover, Kelly contended that Dawson’s actions deprived her of sufficient time to rectify issues on the property before structures were demolished.

Kelly also expressed profound dismay over the upheaval caused by Dawson’s actions. Having resided at the property for the past eight years, Kelly recounted the sentimental value attached to the home, that housed cherished paintings passed down through generations. She underscored the broader impact of Dawson’s actions, noting the displacement experienced not only by herself and Ames, but also by numerous others affected by Dawson’s enforcement tactics.

Kelly spoke of Dawson’s alleged derogatory labeling of residents as “undesirable” and lamented the lack of recourse despite her efforts to seek legal assistance. Moreover, she said Dawson’s deviation from the purported mandate of aiding homeowners in meeting code requirements, citing an aggressive manner in which enforcement measures were carried out, including a warrant executed with a disproportionate show of force.

“There’s several people sitting there, behind me,” Kelly said. “Karen Jones just spoke, Calvin Ames, myself, Larry Smith, which made the paper, Eric Ship and I could go on; there’s a long list. Those are just the people that are here today that have been affected, misplaced from their homes entirely by Dawson who’s wreaking havoc on what he called the undesirables, that’s the way – that’s what he’s been doing. So I mean, I don’t know exactly how much I can get into today, because I could go on for quite a while. He’s right, he told me not to bother pursuing any legal action against him, because I’m not going to be able to afford it so it would be pointless, so he’s right, what would be the point.

“I have tried and tried and tried and called every legal aid assistance you can to help Calvin save his property. He literally built that house from the ground up with his father. He’s the last remaining Ames in the area. And everything is the Ames, this and that and he’s a big part of the community.”

Calvin Ames, the property owner, detailed what he felt were egregious violations allegedly perpetrated by Dawson. Ames emphasized Dawson’s purported disregard for the mandated 21-day notice period before commencing abatements, asserting that demolition of his property and personal belongings began on the eighth day. Additionally, Ames accused Dawson of making derogatory remarks about “exterminating” undesirable individuals and expressing a desire to keep them out of the town. Ames went as far as to allege criminal actions and violations on the part of the code enforcement officer during the demolition process.

He said, “I have been violated really badly by this guy,” upon stepping up to speak to council members. He continued, “He was supposed to give me 21 days. I wasn’t able to talk to him when this initially started. I was on the mushroom circuit. I go around a couple different states and pick mushrooms. The guy was supposed to give me 21 days then he started tearing stuff down on the eighth day. All my personal belongings in my house. And I haven’t been able to get in there to get them. He said he was going to exterminate us, our kind of people. I’ve got this on a phone. I gotta take it over to the mall and get it fixed. But he needs to be kept in for the criminal things that he did. If he in fact violated all kinds of violations. I’m in the process of getting a lawyer right now, you know, but we can settle out of court, and I’d be happy with that too.”

Ames appeared visibly upset.

“He called us, he said this was his town, is the exact words he used, he said he was going to exterminate us or send us to Portland because he didn’t want us undesirable people in his town, his town. It’s a bad situation that needs to be looked into. I mean, that’s about what I’ve got to say right now.”

The alleged complaints voiced by Jones, Kelly and Ames revolved around several key issues, including Dawson’s failure to provide adequate notice, refusal to collaborate with tenants on property cleanup efforts, destruction of personal property, and inappropriate comments directed at Ames.

Mayor Susan Coleman thanked the visitor for their courage in coming forward. Blair Larsen, community and economic development director, pledged to investigate the accusations by reviewing body camera footage, highlighting that attempts were made to collaborate with property owners prior to enforcement actions. Moreover, Larsen clarified that city staff do not conduct abatements, contradicting allegations of property damage by city employees.

After hearing from residents Larsen spoke of the intricacies of the abatement process, acknowledging its challenges. Larsen stressed the broader difficulties in enforcement, stating, “Abatement is a difficult topic, as is enforcement in general.” He referenced Chapter 8.04 of the Sweet Home Municipal Code, which dictates that property owners must promptly address nuisances or face potential fines or city led abatement measures.

Further explaining the abatement process, Larsen outlined the typical procedure of hiring a private company to mitigate the nuisance, with subsequent billing to property owners for the cleanup costs plus an administrative fee. He highlighted the significance of Municipal Code 8.042, which outlines steps for addressing code violations comprehensively. Larsen emphasized that in cases where property owners fail not only to maintain their properties but also to reimburse the city for incurred expenses, the city’s recourse is to impose a lien on the property. This ensures that the city can recover its costs either upon the property’s sale or through foreclosure proceedings, thus safeguarding its financial interests.

In regards to the property at 1188 55th Ave., Larsen told the council about the extensive violations found at a property owned by Eldridge and Eugenia Ames, who are deceased. These violations encompassed various issues such as dangerous building conditions, improper trash disposal including burning and burying, leakage of raw sewage, presence of junk vehicles, and unlawful outdoor storage. Larsen disclosed that compliance was prompted by reports from neighbors regarding burning trash and sewage leaks.

Larsen told the council, despite efforts to contact responsible parties, none could be identified, leading to the proposal of a lien amounting to $38,223.60. The property underwent abatement procedures, including demolition of hazardous structures, removal of debris and trash, and sewage cleanup. Larsen presented before-and-after images depicting the significant cleanup efforts, highlighting the structural improvements made to prevent further deterioration of the property.

“So the main thing preventing the property from being occupied right now is that the building is condemned,” Larsen said. “Someone would need to do some rehabilitation work to bring it up to code and our building inspector would take a look at the property and verify that it has been brought up to code. Once a lien is placed on a property, it does accrue interest, but it just stays there until either the property is sold, in which case the lien would come up and it would be paid as part of the process of the sale, or unless the city takes action to foreclose. The county forecloses on property all the time for non payment of taxes. And so they often go through that process. We, the city, to my knowledge, haven’t done a foreclosure for quite some time, but that is something that the city would weigh in on when to move forward with foreclosure.

“The property, the remaining house, is probably fine structurally; however, parts of it had been removed, including the chimney. And it has been boarded up to keep the property from falling into disrepair again.”

Coleman invited those who wished to object to the approval to step forward.

Kelly, objecting to the approval of the abatement lien by the City Council, stated that contrary to claims made by Dawson, she was present and available to discuss responsibility for the property.

As a resident, Kelly asserted she communicated with the officer on multiple occasions, informing him of the legal status of the property’s ownership and the intentions of the deceased owners’ son, Ames.

Despite her efforts to cooperate and relay messages, Kelly claimed the officer refused to work with her unless Ames was physically present. She detailed her return to the property to address accumulated trash and prepare it for Ames’ return, only to find Dawson condemning and demolishing buildings without adequate notice.

Kelly expressed frustration at the lack of opportunity to rectify the situation before Dawson’s actions rendered the property irreversibly damaged.

“But by the time Calvin got back, everything was demolished. You can’t undo that, you know, and he came back as quickly as he could. When he’s four states away, what can you do? So I mean, we did, we tried, I would have been willing. If he would have given me two weeks, I would have had it all done. Oh, I don’t know what else to say. I wasn’t given the opportunity.”

Ames returned to object as well, adding to his previous statements. Ames stood before the city council, recounting further a string of incidents involving Dawson’s management of abatement procedures.

According to Ames, Dawson allegedly engaged in destructive behavior, tampering with trailers and damaging personal property. He claimed that Dawson’s actions even extended to vandalizing his pickup truck and unjustly condemning his property without proper assessment.

“He [Dawson] told Heather that she could get her personal stuff out of the house. She did and put it on a flatbed trailer. I had five flatbed trailers there. By the time she got back the next morning to pull the trailer out, he hauled the stuff to the dump and twisted the tongue to the trailer where it couldn’t be used. He did this to five trailers I had there and I’ve got all kinds of witnesses to this.”

Moreover, Ames accused Dawson of making discriminatory remarks, suggesting a potential bias in his enforcement approach. Urging a thorough investigation, Ames insisted that Dawson’s behavior merited scrutiny and potential legal action.

“He tore it up… it’s crazy what he did,” Ames said about the damage to his property,

Ames continued, “We put my Dodge pickup over there to trailer loads by tools. And a friend of mine had his car parked over there. Next morning, we got there and he’s got tow trucks on all the trucks and cars and he took the trailers. I don’t know what he did with them but they had all my tools and personal stuff out of the shop. He tore down my shop and it didn’t even have a condemned notice on it. When he came there, he put a condemned notice on the trailer, nobody had been living in it.”

“There’s all these videos on stuff that he did bad. Really bad,” Kelly said.

Larsen responded to the objections expressing his concern over the allegations made against Dawson. He emphasized the use of body cameras for transparency and indicated his intention to review the footage. He highlighted his disappointment that many of the issues raised had not been brought to his attention earlier, despite a sched,” he said. “We had an appointment to meet.”

Regarding the abatement process, Larsen defended the city’s actions, stating that notices were issued after attempts to work with property owners and occupants to resolve issues. He clarified the city’s role in abatement, emphasizing that private crews, not city staff, handle the cleanup process.

Larsen acknowledged the possibility of mishandling by the cleanup crew but noted that no reports were filed during the abatement process.

“Could something have happened where someone on the crew took some things, that’s certainly possible,” Larsen said.

“Madam Mayor, when it comes to people’s personal property, I think that we need to make sure that we have the process reviewed, especially with accusations, so I personally would like to table this until the next meeting, so we have more information before we make a decision on this item,” Councilor Angelita Sanchez said.

While the council did not make immediate decisions, they expressed a willingness to scrutinize the incidents mentioned. In a vote of 4-2, the council opted to defer approval of a lien on Ames’ property until further investigation into Dawson’s actions could be conducted. In summary, while the council heeded the grievances presented by residents, they deferred direct action pending additional review.

The investigation findings will be presented at the next city council meeting, likely in late February or early March, for the council to review and make a determination on the proposed lien.

The council encouraged residents who have photo/video evidence or want to file police reports regarding damage or removal of personal property during abatements, to bring those forward to aid the investigation. The residents can also contact the city manager with any other questions or concerns related to the code enforcement process on their properties.