- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Police helicopters are not inexpensive to operate estimates for fuel and upkeep range from the hundreds to thousands of dollars per hour, depending on the model and common sense dictates they be used for better things than checking out how many cars a law-abiding citizen has in his backyard. Yet, for reasons that remain difficult to determine, Fairfax County sent one of its three-man Bell police helicopters to the Falls Church home of a 65-year-old, longtime county resident and Justice Department employee Eugene Mixon on the county's claim he might be in violation of (wait for it) neighboorhood zoning rules. His fence was suspected of being a foot or two above the limit; a shed purportedly didn't meet "community standards" and he had a few old cars in his back yard that he "liked to tinker with." By the way, all his five cars were licensed and were properly in compliance with safety and emissions requirements. Regardless, it seems all this was sufficient provocation to re-create a scene from the movie "Enemy of the State," in which the full brunt of officialdom is used to scrutinize and punish anyone who dares step out of line. Only this is real and, therefore, much more unsettling.

In addition to the threatening and tax-dollar draining fly-by, Mr. Mixon also soon found a large sign planted in his yard, courtesy of the county, identifying his property as a "junkyard" and notifying the community of a hearing next week at which the various zoning issues will be addressed. Mr. Mixon who, on a civil servant's salary, has had to hire a lawyer to defend himself from the county told reporters he believes that Fairfax County is stacking the deck against him by erecting the sign. We are inclined to agree with Mr. Mixon. The intensity of the bureaucratic attack, and the seeming effort to distort the facts to find a violation of the code, is suggestive of personal animus by staff or elected county officials against Mr. Mixon.

The accusation of running a junkyard is particularly suspect. Not only is there no evidence of his running such a business (he is a full-time civil servant at the Justice Department), but Mr. Mixon points out he has never even held a garage or yard sale. All he has in his yard are materials he is using to repair his own house's roof. Neither does having a small tool shed on his property sound like a violation of law. If it is, then retailers such as Home Depot which sells thousands of such sheds to the public every year would be suspect as an accessory before the fact. Regarding the cars he parks in his backyard, if they were late-model Jaguars or BMWs instead of older American brands, we suspect there would be no complaining neighbors.

Virginia state and county officials are loudly claiming this year that they need a tax increase to fund vital government services. Yet, between the cost of the helicopter and elaborate county zoning hearings, they obviously are prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars to harass a law-abiding citizen with an old fence a foot too high, a few unstylish cars and some home construction material in his backyard. This case just happened to be reported last week by The Washington Post. We have to wonder how frequently Fairfax County officials are abusing their budget, if not their authority, in taking sides in neighborhood disputes. And exactly how are they picking the winners and losers?

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