Friday, September 9, 2011

Reader Mail on The No Limits Christian Ministries, Inc. Lawsuit Costs

Mountain Home News Reader Eagle Eye asks:
I know others have asked,  Does the City have any kind of Insurance that will cover any of this mess, also what is the City attorney being paid for his part in it?
The City does carry insurance through ICRMP, which covers almost everything the City could be held liable for- except for this.  ICRMP does not cover lawsuits resulting from zoning or land use decisions, so the money to cover the lawsuit must come from current City General Funds.

The City Attorney's contract covers a set amount of hours representing the City in normal everyday functions, and then a set rate for any hours over and above those.  In this case, the extra hours amounted to around $5,000.00  It's worth noting here that the City Attorney, as he states in his letter to the Chicago-based Mauck and Baker law firm, met with Joe McNeal at no charge to help the church in this process.  We also now have the total from the outside firm, which is around $3500.00.
So the total city attorney fees in the case are roughly $8500 on top of the payment to No Limits Christian Ministries, Inc. of $61,040.11, for a grand total of about $69,500.00.
Where is the money that been spend coming from, also any money that still has to be paid out? Will all the money over the Suit going to cause problems with other City projects due to a lack of funds now? 
The money that has been spent so far, and any money still to be spent, has, and will, come out of the City's general fund, and has already caused problems with other city projects, as well as rippling over into the next fiscal year, as the current year expenditure has now reduced the next fiscal year's cash carryover line by the $61,040.11 amount of the check along with the city's additional legal fees of $8500.

Hope that answers your question, Eagle.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Actual Check- Payable to Chicago-based Mauck and Baker Law Firm

Two things for this Monday: first, there appears to be some confusion over the amount of money the City had to pay.  Here is a copy of the actual check, FedExed to the Chicago-based law firm of Mauck and Baker:
Second, I think it is significant that the expensive (claimed rate of $600 per hour) attorney in this case, John Mauck, was also, according to the Chicago law firm's website, "instrumental in originating parts of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000..."- the very legislation under which his firm brought the suit on behalf of No Limits Christian Ministries, Incorporated.

Look again at the check above, realizing that 61% of the total, $37,040.11, went to the Chicago law firm whose senior partner, John Mauck, was "integral in the enactment of RLUIPA", while "only" $24,000.00 went to No Limits Chrisitian Ministries, Inc.
Get the picture?  Well, here's one:
Chicago Attorney John Mauck, "instrumental in originating" the law that just gained his firm $37,040.11
I'd smile too, if I'd just gotten a check fo $37,040.11 as a result of a law I was instrumental in originating.  Bravo?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Reader Comment, My ReSponse. Keep Them Coming!

Update:  If you spot a typo, let me know.  Please.
I was just about to whine for readers to post more comments and questions, critical or otherwise, when this reader comment came in.  Yay!  I'll add my responses to her comment throughout, in red:

The jenexperience wrote:
I'm wondering, and I may be wrong here, but is it appropriate to be commenting in this manner if you are a chair person regarding these proceedings? 
A very good question. It would have been inappropriate for me to comment outside public meetings during the condtional use permitting process, and it would have been inappropriate for me to comment at all while we were negotiating a settlement.  But now both are over, and this case and all these documents are a matter of public record, and I, like anyone, have a right to offer my opinion, which for me is: what a bunch of bullshit I think this whole case was, and is. A minor point of clarification also: The Mayor is the chair of the Council Meetings.  As Council president, I acted as chair in the absence of the Mayor at the May 9 meeting.
You may not like what is being said and done, or a typo here or there, but now you seem to have a vindictive bias against No Limits.
Having been a named defendant in a federal lawsuit, which accused me of denying the constitutional rights of a church congregation, I certainly have a bias in the sense that I deny the allegations contained in that lawsuit.  Clearly, there must be a bias when a lawsuit is filed.  The plaintiffs in the case also had a bias in making the accusation against me.  But am I being vindictive?  I don't think so. Facts are facts. In the case of opinions, I haven't been able to offer my take on this whole debacle publicly since the CUP application was filed, so there is a lot I have been waiting quite a while to say. (And, ask anyone who knows me, I tend to have a lot to say.)
You use quotations to show that you do not agree with something, you come very close to the definition of libel when referring to Clark Williams Sr., and your whole animosity comes out in your blog.
I don't use quotation marks when referring to Clark Williams Sr. Mostly, I use the quotation marks to emphasize the precise use of words which have important legal connotations, especially in reference to Willams' claim to be a "Licensed Christian Counselor" (His words)  
I did use quotations in an editorial fashion around the word "Christian" in the name of the non-profit corporation of which he is an officer or director.  I did so because the behavior exhibited by that corporation in filing a lawsuit against the city and its representatives is the very antithesis of the teachings and sayings attributed to the Christ of the New Testament.  I  maintain that an organization claiming to be Christian, and moreover Christ-Based, is subject to having the legitimacy of that claim called into question (with the quotation marks) when it acts in a manner which the Jesus Christ of the New Testament would have rejected.  I'm open to anyone showing me where any of Jesus' sayings, teachings, or actions point to Him recommending churches file lawsuits against cities for money damages.  (Note- Christ only. Use a red-letter New Testament.) 
I have quite a few Christian friends, and not a single one of them, nor I, believes the church acted in a Christ-like manner in this case. So I think putting "Christian" in quotation marks in the church's corporate title is appropriate.
I think Clark Williams Sr. is probably a pretty decent guy.  I can't say the same about his beliefs, or what his organization has done allegedly in the furtherance of those beliefs.  My real animosity, though is toward the nonsense as a whole wherever it is to be found- tax exempt organizations using taxpayer-funded court systems to take away those taxpayers' funds, religious-based licensing exemptions and a host of other benefits given to religious organizations under the guise of religious freedom.  That's where my animosity is directed.
It's almost like you're taking this personally, and it's not personal. If it were, you would know the type of people you are discussing, and you would not place quotes around the word Christian in your blog.
It's not personal?  The filing of this document in Federal Court on June 1, 2011 made it a personal action by the church against me:
That's my name on the summons, telling me, personally, that a lawsuit has been filed against me, personally, in Federal Court.  So, yeah, it's personal.  And again, not a single Christian friend of mine thinks filing the lawsuit was Christ-like behavior, so, again, the editorial quotes around the word Christian in the corporate name of the church in my opinion are fair game.
If I'm out of line then so be it, but I feel you may be operating in a dangerous area of slander and libel.
Regards, Jen 
I don't thnk you're out of line, Jen.  You ask pertinent, relevant questions and make a few claims, a couple of which I think I have shown to be, in my opinion, demonstrably false. I appreciate you taking the time to write your comments and I think your comments are worth my time to respond.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Response to Ed O'Reilly's Letter to the Editor

I'd like to respond to Ed's August 31 Letter to the Editor in the Mountain Home News: (emphasis added, my comments in red)

Dear Editor:
Referencing the headline used last week concerning the expensive lawsuit to the city, I would expect less bias from the Mountain Home News. It was worded as if the cost to the city was caused by the church's lawsuit.
Fact:  If the church had not filed the lawsuit, there would have been no cost to the city.  It was purely the church's choice to spring the lawsuit upon us, completely without warning.  Even during the contentious Catholic church permitting process (in which Ed provided thoughtful and helpful testimony, by the way) the applicant gave clear warnings of potential litigation whenever they found some part of the process too far over the line.  And we yielded, when so warned and were potentially in the wrong.  There is no reason No Limits couldn't have shown some common decency and done the same, at least warning us they considered the CUP process itself to be the problem.
Who really was the perpetrator and who was the victim?
I believe the church was the victim. The city council initiated the problem, along with their advisors, and is the cause of the cost to the city.
The City council  most certainly did not initiate the problem.  It was the church, not the City, that chose: first, to purchase (apparently with insufficient due diligence) and then to alter and occupy, a facility with the significant problems found at the Salvation Army property.  When these significant shortcomings were pointed out to the applicant, very early in the process, the City went well above and well beyond its legal obligations in helping the church to succeed, even on the inherently problematic property.  Here are relevant parts of City Attorney Jay Friedly's letter detailing the extraordinary steps the city took to help the applicant succeed: (emphasis added)
The defendants feel that their offer of settlement is very fair. At no time and in no way did any of the defendants, including the City of Mountain Home, ever deny NLCM the use of the property in question because the proposed use was for religious services. The only issues were the crosswalks, landscaping, sewage disposal and parking. The City and its employees assisted NLCM in every way that they could to help NLCM resolve these issues.
    NLCM started remodeling the building without a building permit. A building permit is required for any kind of commercial remodel. The City could have issued a citation for this violation of the building code, but it did not. The City worked with NLCM to assist it in obtaining a building permit that was issued on November 15, 2010, which was approved and paid for on November 23, 2010.

    NLCM installed a sign on the building without the required permit. The City could have issued a citation for this violation but it did not. The City worked with NLCM in obtaining the required permit after the fact.
The parking at the building in question does not meet the City’s parking ordinance. The City has taken numerous steps to inform NLCM about the City’s ordinance and has attempted to help them comply with the ordinance.

    Mayor Rist asked John Matthews of the City’s Public Works Department to measure the property in question and suggest how the number of parking spaces could be maximized and still comply with parking standards. I have enclosed a copy of the engineered drawing prepared by John Matthews showing the parking spaces on the existing property. The City does not usually do this and it is not required by any law or ordinance. This was done by the City in an attempt to assist NLCM in complying with the City’s parking requirements.

    Former Mayor Joe McNeal, on behalf of NLCM, stopped by my office and asked about the parking. I made a copy of the City’s parking ordinance and I gave that to him. I reviewed the parking ordinance with him. I also made a summary of the City’s parking ordinance and emailed it to Mr. McNeal on February 19, 2011. I have enclosed a copy of that summary for your reference. The City wanted to assist NLCM in knowing what was required by the City’s parking ordinance, especially concerning the documentation required to meet the parking requirements through the use of property owned by a third-party.

    Bonnie Harper, the City Planner, provided NLCM with the names and telephone numbers of the personnel from the Union Pacific Railroad’s real estate department so NLCM could contact the Union Pacific Railroad and arrange for parking on Union Pacific’s property that was adjacent to the property being leased by NLCM.

    The City was willing to allow NLCM to have a gravel parking lot on property that it would lease from the Union Pacific Railroad, rather than requiring the paving of the property.

    As I write this letter NLCM has not complied with the City’s parking ordinance and is not connected to the City’s sewer system and thus has not complied with the City and State sanitation requirements. I mention this to try and emphasize the fact that the City of Mountain Home has indeed cooperated with NLCM and has tried to assist in every way possible for NLCM to meet the City’s requirements.
The City of Mountain Home went out of its way to help this church comply with the most basic requirements, required of any applicant, church or not.  And in return for this extra effort, the city was sued.  I do not see how any reasonable person can read what the city tried to do to help and conclude that the church was a 'victim' here.
The church members were protecting themselves and their right as established under law. Fortunately, in this case, the courts agreed on who was the perpetrator by upholding the existing laws.
The court agreed to no such thing: both parties agreed to settle out of court, and this statement in the release and settlement agreement makes it clear that there was no "perpetrator:"

"That it is understood and agreed by NLCM that this settlement is the compromise of doubtful and disputed claims, and that this agreement is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the parties hereby released, and that said City of Mountain Home denies liability therefor and intends merely to avoid litigation and buy its peace.
The church, No Limits Christian Ministries, Incorporated, signed that statement, agreeing that its claims were "doubtful and disputed."  Had they considered their claims meritorious enough to prevail in court, they wouldn't have agreed to this settlement.  It's simply not reasonable to make the assertion that the City was wholly at fault in this case, and the church's own statement above proves that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Alert Reader's Excellent Comments

I received this comment today, and it is a great example of how frustrating posting comments to the Mountain Home News comments section can be.  A well organized, well articulated set of critiques or questions such as these might not get the well thought out response deserving of the time and thought put into them.

Here, the commenter will (we hope) receive well thought out rebuttals or answers to the topic at hand, and not a bunch of randomly capitalized and punctuated rambling and incoherent diatribes.

For now, I leave you with this excellent comment, now promoted to blog post, and will provide my answers and commentary when able:

Comment from "Vic":

First off – great job on helping to set the record straight. Secondly, I read the complaint when it was first made public and couldn’t believe that any court would agree that it was valid. Reading it again hasn’t changed my mind. Reading through the documentation you’ve posted makes surer that it’s groundless. To me the mere mention of RLUIPA was supposed to be enough to make the city buckle.

Most of the points in the claim seem ridiculous; paragraph 8 especially. No one forced them into that temporary location, and if their members didn’t want to worship where others did, or have the capacity to care for their own children during a two hour service – why is that the city’s fault? Did they survey the community to get the data to back up paragraphs 48-52, who did the survey, where are the results? Again to me, this is entire complaint is baseless.

The parking/Crosswalk situation falls to the “church/counseling business”. If they don’t have safe, adequate parking or access from the parking to their facility, acquiring it needs to be built into their business plan. Pretty simple. The sewage situation had to be obviously underrated for their planned operation. Why didn’t they address that and plan funding accordingly? That’s what any business would do.

Alcohol letter: what is a “present of future commercial activities relating to the sale or consumption of alcohol”? Are there local businesses planning to give away alcohol as a present in the near future, or did the three people who signed the document not proof it before having it notarized? Just wondering what level of professionalism we are dealing with here. It’s one thing to comment on a blog or online forum and have typos or misspellings…but not in a professional document that is known to be destined for the public domain.

I don’t understand why any church would have to incorporate. Aren’t religious organizations covered legally because they are religious organizations, without requiring incorporation? Then they incorporate two businesses and not the “church”, it’s not consistent. I realize there are some “churches” incorporate, I just don’t know why.

Licensing and certifications, in my opinion, should be legally recognized and publically registered for any field (religious or not) if they would require licensing or certification had they not been a religious organization (self-proclaimed or not). Counseling, general construction, vending hotdogs, everything that is in a sphere of operation that would normally require certification and/or licensure should not be exempt because they affiliate themselves with a religion. I know there are plenty of actual licensed and certified counselors that are faith based – some even take Tricare!

If I’m looking to break into a business (and make no mistake, that’s all this is), I would really have had my bases covered to be become a presence in that given field. That doesn’t appear to have happened in this case.

Anyway, that’s a couple of things off the top of my head on this subject. Good blog you have going here. Can’t wait to get to the rest of the story.

Vic August 30, 2011 12:02 PM

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are There "No Limits" to a License to......Counsel?

No Limits "Christ Based" Counseling Ministries, Inc.'s "Team Biographies" page  (as shown on August 28, 2011) says that Pastor Clark Williams, Sr., is a  "Licensed and certified Christ Base counselor":
Licensed and certified? That's good to know.  The mission of the State's Counselor licensing board is "To protect the public health, safety and welfare through the licensure and regulation of those who provide counseling services in Idaho."  So, if someone is providing counseling in the State of Idaho, they ought to be licensed by the State of Idaho, in order that the public can be assured the counselor meets certain criteria, hasn't done anything which would result in the revocation of a counseling license or some such, right?

Let's check the State of Idaho's Counselor License and Registration records search page:

Type in the last name "Williams" and we get all of the Licensed counselors with the last name "Williams" in the State of Idaho- all seven of them. None of them are Clark Williams, Sr., Pastor of No Limits Christ Based Counseling Ministries, Inc.
Maybe the claim to be "Licensed" on his webpage is an isolated mistake?
No, he seems to be pretty sure of being "licensed"- he repeats the claim two more times in the court filings:

"I, Clark D. Williams, Sr., make this declaration.....I am an ordained pastor, licensed Christian counselor, and resident of Mountain Home, Idaho..."
And in the original complaint: "...when Clark D. Williams, Sr., an ordained pastor and a licensed Christian counselor...."
Absurdly, "Christian" counselors aren't required to be licensed at all.  Idaho Code 54-3402 states the requirements to be licensed as a counselor in Idaho, then yanks the protective rug out from under the public with this dandy little nugget of horseshit at the very end:
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to apply to the activities and services of any religious denomination or sect or faith-based counseling of any kind.
Wait, what?
That's right.  He doesn't need a license- because it's "Christ Based" Counseling!
So he doesn't even need to claim to be licensed.  Unless he's seeking some other stamp of validity than the "Christ Based" nature of the counseling he's delivering.
There's a problem with that, though.  All the non-"Christ Based" counselors out there who have had to go through a lot of state-mandated hours of training and a state  licensure process don't like being lumped into the same group with those who have not had to so comply.  And the State, fulfilling its mission of protecting the public from unscrupulous counselors, does so "through the licensure and regulation of those who provide counseling services in Idaho."      

But the State, through this extensive licensure and regulation process, probably wouldn't want to put the stamp of approval on anyone who, by specific exemption or not, hadn't gone through that process.  So the state code that lets anyone with a Bible call themselves a "Christian Couneselor" is also pretty clear that they can't also call themselves "licensed" unless they've complied with all the provisions of the licensing code:
54-3402. License required -- Exemptions. It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in any of the following acts:
(1)  To practice professional counseling or marriage and family therapy for compensation without first having complied with the provisions of this chapter and without a valid license as required by this chapter.
(2)  To represent himself/herself to be a licensed professional counselor or licensed counselor or licensed marriage and family therapist or licensed associate marriage and family therapist unless he/she shall first obtain a license pursuant to this chapter.
 That means if you wanna say you're licensed, you gotta have a license.  If you don't need a license because Jesus is your supervisor, by all means, don't get one. But don't tell the public you have one, unless you're clear that your license is from Jesus, and not from the Idaho Licensing Board of Professional Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Hmm.  maybe his license is from somewhere else, then?

Fine.  Tell us, clearly wherefrom this "license" was obtained.  According to the State Bureu of Occupational Licenses, it ain't from Idaho.

Incidentally, here is a list of all the Licensed Professional Counselors with 83647 as their Zip code:


We'll deal with the word "Certified" and the source of Williams' "certification" in the next entry.

What is No Limits Christian Ministries, Incorporated?

One question that came up at the beginning of the process was, "What is No Limits Christian Ministries, Inc., anyway?"  Are they a counseling center, or are they a church?  Or are they something else?  As always, it's helpful to look at what is written, rather than what is said, to find the answer.

There are two listings in the Idaho Secretary of State's Business listing search which apply:
No Limits Christian Ministries, Inc., and No Limits Christ-Based Counseling Ministries, Inc., both of which are registered as 501c(3) nonprofits and show Clark D. Williams, Sr. as the registered agent.

Look at the purpose listed on the No Limits Christian Ministries, Inc. Articles of Incorporation document:
"To instruct, teach, direct, prepare, encourage and equip men and women for ministry."  Nothing about it being a "church."  More like a missionary or ministry training center.  Although the general idea of ministerial training is religious in nature, this document does not indicate anything about assembling people together for worship purposes. This document was the first of the two, filed on February 17, 2010.

This document, the No Limits Christ Based Counseling Ministries, Inc. Articles of Incorporation, was filed on April 8, 2011, well into the Conditional Use Permitting process.  Again, look at the "purpose":
 Note the purpose of this non-profit corporation: "To counsel, train and coach in areas of general life, marriage, substance abuse, and financial matters."  Now they are a "counseling center." Again, no mention of "church," or gathering groups of people for worship services.

Here is the Mountain Home City Code's definition of a "church": (emphasis added)

CHURCH/RELIGIOUS FACILITIES: A building or structure, or groups of buildings or structures, which by design and construction are primarily intended for the conducting of organized religious services and/or a household unit for persons employed in the building. Schools, clubs, day care and accessory uses associated therewith shall require a conditional use.

So, which is it?  Is the applicant trying to open a ministry training center, and then a counseling center?  Only on the application for the conditional use permit do we see the word "church."

The date of this application is December 16, 2010. Note the entry under "Existing uses": "Christian Counseling Ministry"  But the document incorporating the "No Limits Christ Based Counseling Ministries, Inc." was not filed until April 8, 2011- so that could not have been an "existing use" on December 16, 2010, unless it was operating there without being registered with the Secretary of State.

Also notable is this transaction detail log from No Limits Christ-Based Counseling Ministries, Inc.'s Chicago-based law firm, Mauck and Baker:

 So, No Limits's Pastor Clark Williams began consultation with the Chicago's Mauck and Baker back in March, 2011, according to this log.  Neither No Limits' Clark Williams, nor representatives of their Chicago law firm ever mentioned this fact to the city at any point in the process until after the suit was filed.

It looks like, from these documents, we had a "non-profit" business setup which then decided to later call itself a "church" to take advantage of the legal status of "churches" in the outrageous exemptions for churches found in both Idaho and Federal Code.

The fact remains, as pointed out in our city attorney's excellent letter, this whole thing could have been avoided had their attorney simply picked up the phone, called our attorney and notified him of the applicability of RLUIPA to this case (dubious as it may be), and we would have caved right then and there.  And probably even paid the $ 600 per hour(!) accrued fees to that point.  Instead, No Limits "Christ-Based" Counseling Ministries, Incorporated, by filing this case without any warning whatsoever got to pocket $24,000 in "damages," right out of the City treasury.  A city treasury, which, by the way, they pay into not one cent, and a city treasury out of which come the funds to maintain the streets and provide services to that very church.

Quite a racket, isn't it?

You don't know the half of it.
Next up- "Counseling."  You're not gonna believe it.