The city’s former insurance carrier settled three federal lawsuits filed by resident Art Rojsza, known in Ferndale for his unfinished “clock tower” construction at his Main Street home.
Rojsza claimed in U.S. District Court in Seattle that he was harassed by the police and City Hall. He will receive $130,000 for agreeing to drop the three cases, said Larry Hildes, Rojsza’s attorney.
Rojsza accused Ferndale of retaliating against him for opposing the city’s new police station, completed in 2012 at a cost of more than $6 million. Rojsza said it was too big for a city Ferndale’s size. The city abused its authority, Rojsza went on to claim, by citing him for displaying a sign supporting his son’s campaign against the mayor in the 2011 election.
In one of the lawsuits, Rojsza claimed Ferndale police officers exceeded their authority when they arrested him on what he said was a baseless charge of assault against a 14-year-old girl at Haggen. No evidence of assault ever emerged, according to federal court filings, and Rojsza was acquitted.
In another of the federal suits, Rojsza said he was harassed by city authorities with 104 charges of displaying an illegal campaign sign. In 2011, Rojsza posted a large sign outside his Main Street house for his son Norbert Rojsza, who was running against the incumbent mayor. A Ferndale judge dismissed the city’s charges, saying the sign ordinance was unconstitutional.
“We had a different set of rules for campaign signs versus other kinds of signs in the city,” Ferndale spokesman Sam Taylor said on Tuesday, Nov. 18. “You can’t do that because it’s not content neutral.”
The city has since rewritten its sign laws to be “one size fits all,” Taylor said.
In a third federal complaint, Rojsza accused the city of harassing him with notices of violation for a remodeling project at his house, which has gone uncompleted for about a decade. As recently as May, the city revoked a building permit for the remodel and cited Rojsza with a nuisance violation for what the city deemed was the “unhealthy or unsightly” condition of his yard.
The city and Rojsza are presently negotiating over how to proceed with construction at the house at 2147 Main St., Taylor said.
Mayor Gary Jensen said the city’s actions against Rojsza over the past decade were not retaliation for his son’s mayoral campaign or Rojsza’s opposition to the police station.
“The issue has never been about those things,” Jensen said. “It’s been about completing his house.”
The permit violations at the house stemmed from Rojsza dodging city requirements and orders for years, city officials have said.
City officials played no role in deciding whether to settle the federal cases, and they were not involved in negotiating the settlement amount.
“They didn’t ask us (if we wanted to settle), and they didn’t tell us ahead of time,” Jensen said.
The city will pay a $10,000 deductible toward the settlement, Taylor said.