Stomping Studer

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Apparently, the city of Aurora, Ohio hasn’t heard about this summer’s Kelo decision from the Supreme Court. Though governments are now emboldened to steal our land, Aurora is still sneaking around as though the theft it contemplates is illegal. It’s been spying on a woman whose farm it covets and covertly sending its minions to harass her. It even clandestinely hired a lawyer to expedite the harassment. So far this year, Aurora’s bureaucrats have wasted 6% of their “planning and zoning legal budget” on these efforts. Someone tell the poor saps that all they need do is find a sports team panting for a new stadium or a corporation eager to build another mall and, voil, Mrs. Studer’s land is theirs.

Ruth Studer is a spry, 76-year-old farmer who boards horses at her High Wind Ranch. She shares her equestrian passion through 4-H and by inviting kids to her stables. She so impressed one young woman that her admirer wrote about her on a website called “Your True Hero,” dedicated to “honor[ing] ordinary people who do extraordinary things.” Mrs. Studer not only owns but actively works the High Wind, her home since 1954. She grows the hay her horses eat while maintaining her barns and what must seem miles of fences. In a picture published by the Akron Beacon Journal, she looks like a diminutive American Indian chief. Eerily appropriate, isn’t it, considering how those folks suffered from eminent domain. She stands with thin arms crossed, a patterned scarf encircling her head, and the tail end of a black pigtail — perhaps it’s a braid — peeking over a shoulder. She’s scowling la Geronimo as she and her granddaughter “talk…about fighting to keep Studer’s land.”

Suburban to both Cleveland and Akron, Aurora counted only 13,556 souls during the 2000 census. Yet its bureaucracy rivals New York City’s. The aforementioned “planning and zoning legal budget” amounts to $55,000 per annum. That’s the legal fund for the zoning Nazis, mind you, not the office’s budget as a whole. There are Law Direktors — sorry, Directors, and Zoning and Planning Directors as well as inspectors, and an entire City Council. Easy to see how all these useless, bored busybodies need something to fill their time. Picking on those few remaining citizens who don’t work for Leviathan seems to be the preferred method.

Mrs. Studer’s troubles stem from an incident in 1999. The Zoning Department decreed her property residential, then threw a tantrum when Mrs. Studer’s son didn’t acknowledge his resulting serfdom. Howard Studer acted as though his mother still owned her land and could determine its use: since she didn’t object to his running a trucking business and selling mulch from the farm, he continued to do so. Mrs. Studer filed three appeals against the zoners’ tyranny. Not surprisingly, Leviathan’s courts “affirmed” the orders of Leviathan’s agency. The Studers had no choice but to knuckle under. Howard moved his business to the Lucky Sand & Gravel Company, two towns away. But that hardly rid the High Wind Ranch of trucks. Manure, hay and sawdust still need hauling, as do horses, and these tasks require not just trucks but “the biggest trucks they could afford for work on the farm,” as Howard’s daughter explained to the Record-Courier.

Those trucks gave Aurora’s official thieves the opening they required, pre-Kelo. Cops and bureaucrats skulked about “for years,” the Beacon Journal tells us, photographing Mrs. Studer’s trucks and, coincidentally, her 25 acres. Then the city grew bolder. Last year, an inspector descended on the ranch. He issued a citation. Curiously, no citizen had complained about the trucks, nor could Aurora’s Law Director come up with any reason for the inspector’s sudden urge to visit Mrs. Studer. The lawsuit resulting from this vendetta settled Thursday, November 3, the day before it would have gone to court, though the City Council had approved the settlement October 24. Such delays and irregularities are par for the course in Aurora’s persecution of Mrs. Studer: the city’s bi-weekly “law director reports” neglects to mention the lawsuit, nor, until last month, did Aurora’s ambitious thieves inform its Council that they had hired a private lawyer to “go after Mrs. Studer,” as the Beacon Journal puts it.

Let’s give the newspaper credit. A member of the Knight-Ridder empire, the Beacon Journal fearlessly champions government in page after simplistic page. Neither scandal, cruelty, nor flagrant injustice shakes its belief that Leviathan loves all us chillun. Indeed, an editorial last week announced that “Government is a service organization” and recommended that voters approve a new tax because it would collect only another $150 from “workers” earning $30,000 per year. Yet reporter Stephen Dyer had enough gumption to ask Aurora for its records of citizens’ complaints against “Studer or her farm operation.” Predictably, “the city could not produce anything.”

“In fact,” Dyer added, “the correspondence that was produced supported Studer.” Two farm bureaus filed papers with Portage County’s Common Pleas Court in the lady’s defense.

The settlement, two paragraphs long, dictates how Mrs. Studer may use her own machinery on her own property: any trucks must be employed for farming, not her son’s business. Aurora’s attorney assures us that this benefits both Leviathan and the victim: "It lets her continue the horse farm." Gracious of Our Masters, isn’t it?

But Mrs. Studer is hardly appreciative. She’s been around this track before and knows Leviathan lies. Call her cynical, but she suspects she hasn’t heard the last from the thieves. "You don’t like to feel [you have to fight] the town you grew up in," she told the Beacon Journal. "But that’s the way I feel now."

The city’s chicanery is raising suspicions among other Aurorans of equine vocations and avocations. They figure Leviathan’s up to no good, trying to swipe Mrs. Studer’s land for “developers.” The mayor — yes, 13,556 folks cannot negotiate life’s twists and turns without a mayor — pooh-poohed such cynicism and assured the dissidents that no one wants to “kill” Mrs. Studer’s farm.

Right. And Kelo was just an honest mistake.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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