Do you remember Lyle Barkley? In the summer of 2002, he had asked for a zoning permit to enlarge his two mobile homes, and got it from the township. He lost it again after the zoning administrator realized the additions were mobile homes and too narrow by four feet. Barkley was outraged. After a court ruling in September of 2003 that permitted seizure of his homes, he called on national and Michigan militias to defend his property rights. An aura of violence hung over the Barkley spread as he made bold threats to defend his homes by force, if necessary. It could have been Waco or Ruby Ridge, Northern Michigan style. The situation seemed one mistaken shot away from tragedy. Yet it ended in a peaceful sunrise meeting with the sheriff.
The township is poised again to seize his trailers, but the supervisor cant find anyone to do the job.
And last week, Barkely filed a $100 million lien against Charlevoix County and county commissioners, and another $100 million lien against Bay Township and township trustees. His daughter filed identical liens against the same parties.
Its a move that could land them in prison for three years.
Lyle Barkley knows this, but said the lien was filed for the damages they caused me and for taking the life of my wife, who died of a heart attack on Valentines Day this past year.
The liens include a litany of what theyve suffered in this dispute. The fact they couldnt get a jury trial. The fact they couldnt build a handicapped ramp for Lyles wife, Shirley. Their constant fear of losing their property.
Theres a saying, Bad facts make bad law. Reviewing the facts of the Lyle Barkley case, from the viewpoint of elected officials and attorneys and administrators, the old saying seems truer than ever. The law may bury Lyle Barkley, and there are some good people who think that is bad.
THE COURT ORDER
A court order is now looming that gives the township authority to remove the offending trailersthe home of Lyles daughter and her family, and half of Lyles home. Theres another trailer to haul away, but its rain damaged and no one lives there. This past summer, Bay Township Supervisor Larry Moeschke asked two different companies to do the job. He even promised to bulldoze the trailers into the road to make things easier. Both moving services refused, fearing violence. Yet several public officials spoke up, believing that Bay Township had a role in this mess and owes it to Barkley to mediate, so that he can live in peace.
The zoning administrator originally issued him a valid permit for his additions, and then he yanked it, said Charlevoix Prosecutor John Jarema. He said he didnt realize they (the additions) were manufactured homes, but I believe the ordinance doesnt say additions have to be stick-built. The township should admit that it doesnt have totally clean hands in all this either and try to make it right.
Barkley wants to bring the homes up to code, but cant because he needs a building permit, and he cant get the building permit unless the township grants him a land use permit. If he had built the handicapped ramp, he could have been put in jail. Its been a Catch-22.
Jonathan Scheel (not the original zoning administrator in the case) said the case isnt black and whitethe zoning ordinance is open to interpretation. Homes need to be at least 16 feet wide, but that may not necessarily apply to Barkleys additions that measure 12 feet wide.
Its not to say that Lyle can do anything he wants, but theres a lot of subjectivity to this particular question. Theres a way to help everyone win, and thats the bottom line. I want to see whats best for the common good. But it doesnt mean an individual has to suffer abnormally. The Michigan militia pushed the emotional level up so high that we lost sight of whats really going on. What consequences are going to come out of this? It gets very worrisome, when you hear reports of the government tapping phones on a daily basis and taking those rights away. It gets weird when the governments thumb starts pushing so hard.
In July, Charlevoix County commissioners attended a Bay Township meeting to plead with the board to negotiate with Barkley, but to no avail. The township board voted 3-2 to give Supervisor Larry Moeschke authority to remove the trailers. County Building Inspector Ken Doty said it would be impractical to bring the trailers up to code, but not impossible.
Lyle and I have both agreed to sit down and work it all out. If the township would grant his permits, hed allow me on the property and make a list of what he had to do, and hed do his very best to get it done, Doty said, adding that the safety of Lyle and his daughters family is now at stake.
The last five years have involved a judicial odyssey thats postponed the seizure and cost the township $60,000 in legal fees (not to mention the expense of court employees).
STAY OFF MY RIGHTS
For Lyle Barkley, this is about far more than the township zoning code. Its about the Michigan and U.S. constitutions.
He began attending Constitutional Property Rights Association meetings in Antrim County around the time the issue flared up, and recently joined a fairly new chapter of the U.S. Constitution Rangers, whose mission is to enforce the constitution. Members often wear badges, carry official-looking I.D., and drive a car with a siren and a star on its side, although Barkley doesnt. Activists interpret the state and federal constitutions literally, and conclude that people shouldnt have to pay property or federal taxes nor carry a drivers license nor submit to the myriad of local regulations.
Barkley, 59, lives a mile or two outside of Horton Bay, a little town known for its memories of Hemingway and humorous parades. Many folks around here think of Barkley as a scary guy. Yet he was pleasant in a recent interview at his picnic table.
His daughter, Kim, is not easy-going. In fact, she started yelling at me as she was leaving for work and then ordered her dad not to talk to me. He asked her to calm down.
Barkley said he is using his case to prove several constitutional questions in court. First, the Michigan Constitution says that all government workers must take a public oath, and that the assistant prosecutor bringing the charges has not. Secondly, his land is owned by a historic land patent, which he believes is not subject to contemporary zoning laws. Finally, he contends the township does not have the legally required population (1,800) to impose zoning. He adds that the township held a strange 11 p.m. meeting back in 1974, and approved zoning when there was no prerequisite master plan in effect, he said.
District Judge Richard May has ruled only on the oath issue, saying it was rejected in an earlier case of Greyhound Corporation versus the Michigan Public Service Commission. Taylor takes strong issue with Mays interpretation of the Greyhound case, and will continue to appeal, asking again for a stay on the seizure of his trailers.
Behind the high-level arguments, however, is a stark reality that Barkley and his daughters family may lose what little they have. And now with their filings of four $100 million liens, the stakes get even higher. Its a three-year felony to file a harassing lien without a statute or court order behind you, or the consent of the lien party.
Barkley spends several pages legally justifying the liens, but one top official in the area believes that he may have gone too far on this one.
A SHOWDOWN AND AN AGREEMENT
Barkley and Kims family (she and her husband have three children) are situated on four-acres in a beautiful valley. About 20 years ago, Barkley put two single-wide trailers on the property. Bay Township allowed them at the time, but lateras a back-handed strategy to phase out single-wide trailers (its illegal to outright ban them)set a minimum core width of 16 feet for all buildings. Barkleys trailers were grandfathered in.
In the summer of 2002, Barkley needed more room to house his son and daughters young families. He applied for a zoning permit to put two 16 x 32 foot additions onto two of his existing mobile homes. He received the permit, as well as a temporary building permit for the school building. He told the building inspector that he planned to enclose the three residences inside of a pole building. It was strange, but the county building inspector was working with him.
Soon after, the zoning administrator learned that Barkley had changed his plan to add two single-wide mobile homes measuring 12 x 60 feet. He told Barkley to revise the dimensions to get an updated zoning permit.
Barkley did not, but did try to contact the zoning administrator for three weeks. When he finally did, the administrator said his answer was in the mail, and the answer was no.
Yet Barkley still moved the 12 x 60-foot trailers onto the property in October, even after getting a cease and desist order. It should be added that Barkley has had a long history with the township in which he felt hed been wronged. The following spring, Barkley went in front of Judge May to challenge the townships permit rejection. During the hearing, Kim Barkley asked plaintively: But what makes it right? Just because its a manufactured home, I have to remove it?
Good question. In fact, the zoning ordinance did not ban mobile home additions. The reason for the permit denial was that Barkley hadnt properly described the dimensions of the trailer additions, the zoning administrator testified during the hearing.
Another reason the township revoked the permit was that there should be one principal use of property on a single lot. Barkleys attorney argued that could be interpreted as a single use of land for residential purposes.
Judge May ruled in favor of the township, for several reasons, including the fact that the trailers did not meet state building code and it was a practical impossibility to bring them into compliance; the number of residences exceeded the code; and the townships original temporary permit had specifically warned the holder that they proceeded at their own risk. (Jarema asserts that the building code is a county, not township issue.)
Yet the trailers stayed. Lyles sons family lived in the portable, Kims family lived in one double wide, and Lyle and Shirley Barkley lived in the other double-wide. May ruled in September that the township could seize the offending trailer additions, along with a portable classroom. He also authorized the seizure of personal property to pay fines of what then amounted to $800. Now the fines total $8,000.
It came to a near showdown in September of 2003. Several dozen militia came into town and called the sheriff at home and work and drove into his driveway to talk. (Property rights activists believe the county sheriff is the only true law enforcer.)
School bus routes were altered around the property, where several dozen militias had gathered. Charlevoix Sheriff George Lasater and Barkley agreed to meet at 6:30 a.m. to negotiate. At 6 a.m., Lasater received a call from Norm Olson, a local militia leader, saying the meeting was canceled because the Detroit militia rep couldnt be there. He received another call at 6:10 a.m., same message. (He said it was from BarkleyBarkley denies making the call.)
I suspected that I was being set up, said Lasater, who lives three miles away. So I ignored the calls, and showed up anyway and, yes, everybody was there, including the media. I had an idea they were trying to embarrass me, so I went with my gut reaction. I resented what they did.
Lasater said his goal thenand nowis to keep the peace. He assured Barkley that the seizure was not imminent, but hed have to pay his $800 fine and make repairs. Barkley agreed to the repairs and to sever ties with the militias (which he did). He later appealed to the circuit court and succeeded in getting a stay on the seizure order.
But their agreement didnt hold. Barkley could make no significant repairs because he couldnt get the requisite building permits. (As a result of not being able to build a roof, he lost one of his trailers to rain and snow damage.) What he has done is unsuccessfully and repeatedly appeal his case to the circuit court, to the appeals court, and to the state supreme court.
Some people sayand always off the recordthat Barkley was abandoned in his mission by the Constitutional fundamentalists who got him revved up in the first place. Barkley could really use their help, legally and financially. His excavating business fell away after this issue hit, and hes sinking into debt.
I havent had no money coming in. My daughters working and shes supporting me, said Barkley, who cares for his grandchildren and was busy canning this fall to store up food for the winter.
His wifes death in February was another blow. Barkley said the overwhelming stress contributed to her deathnot only the court battle, but also a spat with his uphill neighbor, who often set off a siren to make his dogs bark (at which point, they both called the sheriff).
Over the years, Barkley and daughter have served as their own legal counsel. A high school drop out, Barkley is no lawyer, although hes come a long way in understanding
Yet Barkley has not been abandoned by his good friend Bob Taylor, a former Bay Township supervisor, who helps him prepare his legal filings. Taylor wrote a 2005 letter to the ownship supervisor, asking some pointed questions:
- Is not ones homestead exempt from seizure?
- Are they going to be also taking his trucks, which are his livelihood?
- I assume that during the time in the interim, they can sleep on the floor, and hopefully the community can provide them with food to eat, or maybe we can watch them starve to death as has become an American pastime.
- If we are at the point of taking real property from citizens without the right of a jury trial, this is not something that should happen in this country.
Townspeople differ on what they think should be done. Barkley has alienated many with the menacing signs on his lawn (If you can read this, youre in range). He threatens to sue people for $10,000 if they come onto his land. He asked that the building inspector pay him $1 million in silver coins for taking pictures of his property without permission. Yet there are also those who think the township supervisor is over his head, and someone more capable should step in to mediate before more cash is spilled. And now, it surely will.
THE BIG CHILL
Most agree that the case has become personal.When either Taylor or Barkley try to argue their case at township meetings, Township Supervisor Moeschke sets a three-minute timer, looks down, and doesnt say a word except to announce the time. In fact, Moeschke doesnt even talk to the other trustees at board meetings about the Barkley case.
Prosecutor Jarema has urged mediation. Barkley is willing, but neither the township attorney nor supervisor will call Barkley back.
I wrote a letter of compromise to the township and they wouldnt accept it, Barkley said.
There are two people who have refused to mediate, Taylor said. One is the supervisor and the other is the township attorneyJames Murray. But look at the money Murrays making on this. If he had agreed to mediate, he never would have made $60,000.
Neither Moeschke nor Township Attorney James Murray returned phone calls to the Express, but Murray said in court filings that Barkley has abused the court system with his endless appeals. The time has come to remove the offending structures, he said. Barkley said he will appeal again and file for a stay on the seizure.
DIGGING IN HEELS
If Barkley werent so focused on questions of oaths and land patents, he might have a better chance arguing the takings clause of the Constitutions 5th and 14th amendments. Thats when the government devalues or seizes your property without just compensation. Instead he has made weird legal arguments, Prosecutor Jarema said.
This other route would involve Barkley taking a couple of steps that hes refused to do: either appealing his permit to the Zoning Board of Appeals or applying for a new zoning permit.
A denial in either case would open up a new path in circuit court, where he could argue he has a property interest and that the township is acting arbitrarily as opposed to truly protecting an individuals health, safety or welfare. If the township took his trailers, he would have to prove it violated the taking clause, explained Al Quick, an attorney and constitutional scholar.
Barkley could also argueand has arguedthat the township has illegally excluded single-wide mobile homes in the township.
Theyve made an issue of going after people in trailers, but, by law, theyve gotta have a place where theyre allowed in the township, Taylor said. Its been brought up in court, and they ignore it.
For the township to win its case, it would have to show that it was acting rationally and could rightfully remove the trailers because
of a compelling interest, such as deeming them a nuisance, Quick said. Prosecutor Jarema believes its time for the legal wrangling
Look. The township wants him to remove the homes because they look junky. Lyle wants a place to live in. Can we let him keep it and make him do what it takes to look good and fulfill the requirements of the building code? Can we make everyone happy?