The Real Life Disrupted When the Government Claimed Her Home, Part 1
At the Northeast Conservative Conference of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies held this past weekend, Susette Kelo told the story of the government seizure of her home so that the land could be given to a private developer. Eventually the United States Supreme Court ruled that transferring private property from one owner to another is a legitimate use of the government’s eminent domain power (Kelo v. New London ).
Most of us have been lucky enough to learn about the increasingly broad of the use of eminent domain from reading about it in the newspaper. Susette Kelo did not have that luxury. Here, Ms. Kelo tells the story of how she learned of the government’s broad view of eminent domain from a series of notices delivered to her demanding that she sell her home…
Susette Kelo: I�d like to thank you for having me here today. Hardly a day goes by when I’m working in my garden or having a cup of coffee in my kitchen, both of which overlook the Thames River and the Long Island Sound, that I don’t ask myself the same question. If I had to do this all over again, would I? Even on my worst day, and there have been many, especially now that I know that I have to find a new place to move my home or lose it, my answer is always the same: unequivocally, yes.
It was in February of 1998 that I first heard the news that Pfizer was coming to town. I remember having the thought that this was going to be a problem for me and my neighbors in Fort Trumbull. Little did I know how prophetic that thought would become. I immediately called then Mayor Lloyd Beachy, who was extremely sympathetic, and Kathleen Mitchell, then the neighborhood organizer of the neighborhood alliance.
Since that day eight years ago, Lloyd, Kathleen, hundreds of others, thousands of individuals have become my sounding board, my comrades in arms and my new best friends. But I’m getting away from the subject I know you want to hear about, and what I’ve come to talk about — my feelings and thoughts a year after the infamous Supreme Court decision.
Let me give you a little background on myself and my home. In 1997, I started looking for a house, and finally found a perfect cottage with a beautiful view of the water. I knew when I first entered the cottage that I was meant to be there. Maybe that was also prophetic. I was working as a paramedic and was overjoyed that I was able to find a beautiful place on my salary. I spent every spare moment fixing it up, creating the kind of home I had always dreamed of. I painted it salmon pink.
About a year later, when Pfizer announced that their global headquarters would be built on this little peninsula next door, my neighbors and I received letters from the real estate agent representing the New London Development corporation. We didn’t even know what the New London Development Corporation was, but we would learn fast enough in the next few months. The letters informed us that we had to sell our homes at their price — or they would be seized by eminent domain.
Eventually these letters turned out to be true, but at the time we received those letters, not one word was mentioned about eminent domain. There were no plans which anybody had seen. The initial plans, we found out later, were prepared on the state level under former Governor Rowland with lobbyist Jay Levin leading the way. The United States Supreme Court can try to justify its actions by determining that this was a carefully considered plan which had cleared the necessary hurdles after a lengthy public and lawful process, but that simply was not true.
When the plan finally came down to New London, everything was done in secret and not in an open public process as the law requires. Many homes were acquired long before the plan saw the light of day. Our neighbors, many of whom were in their 80s and 90s, sold because they had the threat of eminent domain hanging over their heads. I don’t blame them; they were afraid. Those who contacted lawyers were told you can’t fight the big guy, so just take the money and leave. In the small town of New London, many lawyers did not even want to take the case.
Later on next year, when the New London Development Corporation contacted me again about selling my home by the beautiful water, after all the work was done, I simply told them I wasn’t interested.
In late 1999, after graduating from nursing school, I became a registered nurse and began working at the Backus hospital in southeastern Connecticut. Early in 2000, public hearings were eventually held and the plan was finalized. Our homes were not part of the plan and by that time I had met a man who shared my dreams. The two of us spent our spare time and money fixing up our home. We got a couple of dogs, I planted flowers, I created my own rugs, and we had antiques which were just perfect for the home. And Tim, who is a stone mason, did all the stonework around the house.
When I first bought the house, it was run-down. Today, it is finished.
On the evening before Thanksgiving 2000, the sheriff taped a letter to my door stating my home had been seized. Thanksgiving was not the happy family holiday we had planned, and every Thanksgiving since has been bittersweet for all of us….
Coming in Part 2: Susette Kelo’s case goes to the Supreme Court…
This past year, several bills were introduced to the state legislature that would prevent this sequence of events from occurring to any homeowner in Rhode Island, but the House and Senate could not agree on a single reform bill, and the bills passed in each chamber were too vague to be meaningful. If you have the chance during this campaign season, ask your legislative candidates if they support clear, unambiguous eminent domain reform. And if a candidate is an incumbent, ask why it didn’t pass this session.