A Question of Freedom

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Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 4:00 am  //  Guest writer

Artur Rojsza is trying build this house in Ferndale.

Guest writer, Norbert Rojsza, is the son of Artur and Margaret Rojsza, the owner/builders.

I would like to share with you some observations gathered over the course of the time my father has tried to build his house in Ferndale, but first some history.

On this day in 1776 our founders declared the USA independent from Great Britain. The USA is 238 today. But, it does depend on how you look at it. We are rebels, so if you count from 1783 when Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, recognizing our independence, we are 231. Then again, you could also count from the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, which puts us at 227. Beautiful at any age.

Today is also the anniversary of my getting sued by the City of Ferndale while trying to run for mayor. At the center of the lawsuit was the house my father has spent many years trying to build.

During the campaign, my team and I managed to go door to door to over 2300 people’s houses and listen to what concerns residents had, I was 24 at the time and had just recently become a United States citizen. I’m very proud of, and thankful for, the work my team did. I am also thankful to all the residents who gave me their time and shared their opinions with me.  After the local news reported the story of the City of Ferndale suing me, many residents wanted to know about my father’s house. On this anniversary I’d like to address some of those questions and offer some perspective on the issue.

People wonder, how it is that this project has been going on for so long and nothing seems to be moving forward. It is because over the last couple of years the following pattern has emerged. The city takes my father to court, and then they complain that the project is not moving forward. The problem here is that the lawsuit completely stops construction until it has been resolved.  Over the years there have been many lawsuits and it is the lawsuits that continue to delay construction, but the community only sees the incomplete project standing there and can only speculate as to why it doesn't get done.

People in Ferndale take pride in their community, as they should. Some people take the failure to complete the project, and the appearance of it, very personally. It is in the center of town, which makes it all but impossible to avoid, and it has become a landmark. Not the kind of landmark that a proud resident would want representing their town, but it is one that people have begun to recognize all over the West Coast. It was even featured on KOMO News recently. The more the city delays the project through lawsuits, the bigger this issue becomes. The bigger the issue, the more interesting story it becomes, making people who are proud of Ferndale, but dislike the house, more likely to see it in the news and hear people associate Ferndale with it, which frustrates them even more.

The sad thing is that officials in the city benefit from having such a visible problem to deal with, while the residents suffer. People want to know what is being done about that house and the city can say they have started a lawsuit or cited the house as a nuisance (which accomplishes nothing but further project delays). Those residents feel like at least something is being done and offer praise to the officials who came up with the great strategy. I can see many problems with this behavior.

First, hundreds of thousands of dollars in city time and money has been put into “dealing” with this house over the years. What have been the results of those efforts? The house is still there, and whenever the lawsuits are concluded and permitting questions have been resolved, progress is made on the project, until the next lawsuit delays the project.

Second, there are bigger problems for the residents in the city of Ferndale than someone trying to build a house, take for example the drinking water. It used to be good water, but after the city spent money and resources switching from clean river water to well water, the water quality got worse and costs more than it used to. As the city works on new projects, the attention they pay to the house takes resources away from them actually improving Ferndale.

Third, the more time nothing happens with the house the more some residents demand action, and the more aggressive the city becomes about doing something about the house. When a city goes after a resident aggressively they can sometimes lose sight of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It is at these times they can cross a line and violate a person’s rights, and the longer this goes on the more liability to lawsuits the city exposes itself to. The residents do not benefit from this kind of behavior at all. Forth, if they can treat some people this way today, they can treat you this way tomorrow.

So why is my father building the house? To understand that, you have to know something about my father and mother’s story. They grew up in a communist country and dreamed of having the freedoms many Americans take for granted. My father and mother want to build something to represent their new life in America, and the freedoms that come with it. That house is more than just a home. It is a symbol. It symbolizes freedom and hope. That is the reason it is so tall, it is the reason why it does not look like a normal home, the reason why it is so visible, and the reason why it has an American flag on it. The more the city gets in the way of the project, the more powerful the symbol becomes and the stronger the resolve to finish it.

I have often wondered why my parents do not simply demolish the house and be done with it. They could be done with all the lawsuits, done with all trouble, and done with all the suffering if they just tore it down. But every 4th of July I am reminded of something. That behind all of the fireworks, the music, and the celebration lay symbols as well. They tell a story of the brave who fought unlikely odds for what they thought was right, for the symbols they believed in. They had to earn their rights, and they didn’t let anyone tear their symbols of freedom and hope down. That helps me understand why my parents will continue to fight to be able to build their house, and it helps me accept it.

As you celebrate The Fourth of July this year, I hope you take a moment to think about how you or other people have had to fight for your freedoms, how you or others have protected your freedoms, and how you have earned your freedoms. After you have thought about that, think about how you would feel if someone tried to challenge the symbol of those freedoms you hold dear. How would you react?

Terry Wechsler  //  Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 7:17 am

To take a tour of the house, see here + Link Coolest thing I learned: the house will have a clock tower. Why? Because Ferndale doesn’t have a clock tower, and every town should have a clock tower. Indeed!

Happy 4th of July to you and yours, Norbert.

(2nd generation)

Tip Johnson  //  Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 7:00 pm

Maybe the penny-ante Ferndale building bureaucrats keep obstructing the Rojsza’s progress because they are worried there could be a high-powered rifle inside that clock tower

Walter Haugen  //  Sat, Jul 05, 2014, 11:31 am

Tip - You have it backwards. According to Ferndale police reports from September 12, 2012, a Ferndale City Councilman made a threat to shoot Art Rojsza in the head in an Executive Session of the City Council on September 4, 2012. The police filed a report because two Ferndale City Council members were appalled enough to report it. However, no action was taken.

It is the Rojszas who must be fearful of a sniper.

Sandy Robson  //  Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 12:15 pm

What seems unfair to me is that there was even a Bellingham Herald news article published on June 2nd, written by Herald reporter Ralph Schwartz declaring a court win for the City of Ferndale against the Rojszas when that was not really the case. The next day, on June 3rd, it was corrected only by Schwartz writing a follow up piece and placing it on the Herald Politics Blog page, and stating that in fact, neither side “won” anything. Why wasn’t that corrected article placed as a news article as it had been in the news section the day before? I would imagine that not that many Herald readers read the Politics Blog as compared to the News section, so its likely that not many read the next day corrected version of the story.

Why was there even a news story run at all when things were still ongoing? Was it something the Ferndale Mayor Jensen and/or Ferndale City Clerk Sam Taylor had contacted the Herald about running? I would like to know if Ferndale City Clerk Sam Taylor, who used to be a reporter for the Herald, was the one who contacted Schwartz and the Herald about the article Schwartz ended up writing. And if he did, was it at the request of mayor Jensen? I think it was premature for the Herald to even report on something without a comment from the Rojszas’ attorney. The Herald did not have all the facts before writing the story. And the story was not some breaking news story that couldn’t wait. It was about a continuing legal case between Ferndale and the Rojszas that has been going on for years, and is not finished yet.

Some of the comments from the public posted below the Herald article were pretty rude toward the Rojszas. Many of those coming from what sounded like small-minded people. I believe some of those comments from people were due to only hearing from mainly one side, the City of Ferndale, about this dispute between the Rojszas and Ferndale. It seems like there is much more to the story than simply what Ferndale government officials and workers state about the dispute, and Ferndale government should be doing this privately and not trying to get the press to help them build resentment from citizens who do not have all of the facts, to put public pressure upon the Rojszas. It was uncalled for and was not fair.

I was glad to read this article on NWCitizen so we could get more information than the seeming one-sided coverage from the Herald.

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