10/06/09 — Tackling planning

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Tackling planning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 6, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Commissioners Andy Anderson, right, and Bud Gray, center back, and Planning Board member Hattie Frederick, left rear, look over proposed changes to the county Planning Board ordinance. A committee that includes the two commissioners, two Planning Board members and other county officials is working on revisions to the ordinance that would give commissioners clear power to remove a Planning Board member, all of whom are appointed by the commissioners.

Proposed changes to the county's Planning Board ordinance would not address whether commissioners would still be allowed to serve on both boards at the same time, but it would grant commissioners the authority to remove a member with or without cause at any time.

A committee created by the commissioners to review the ordinance met Monday.

Discussed but discarded by the committee were changes to the length of service and requiring appointments based on the board of commissioners' districts.

For the most part, no wide-sweeping measures emerged from Monday afternoon's meeting. In fact, a number of the proposed changes were housekeeping chores such as making sure the correct state laws were referenced.

One item that did get committee members' attention concerned approval of subdivision plats.

County attorney Borden Parker, who led the review, noted that the original county ordinance that created the Planning Board gave that approval to commissioners. For whatever reason, the authority was transferred to the Planning Board when the county's subdivision ordinance was adopted.

That is somewhat ironic in light of commissioners' efforts to reclaim that power. The subdivision ordinance is under review and was expected to have been discussed by commissioners at their board meeting today. Commissioners have not indicated whether they would act on the changes today or defer a vote until a work session could be held.

Commissioner Chairman Bud Gray said he was pleased with Monday's meeting. Serving with Gray on the committee are Commissioners J.D. Evans and Andy Anderson, Planning Board members Hattie Frederick and David Quick, Parker and county planner Connie Price.

Parker penciled in changes to the ordinance during the session, and commissioners today will get their first look at the proposed revision. Copies also will be forwarded to the Planning Board for its input.

Whether or not commissioners may remove a Planning Board member is not addressed in the existing ordinance. Because people are appointed for specific terms, it is somewhat unclear if they can be removed, Parker said.

Parker said that while the members serve at the pleasure of the board, it would be best to spell out the removal policy in the ordinance to avoid problems.

The proposal reads, "The Planning Board shall consist of seven members who shall be appointed for three-year terms, but who serve at the pleasure of the Board of Commissioners. Members may be removed by the Board of Commissioners with or without cause.... Planning Board members shall not serve more than three consecutive terms."

"That is clearly a change from the language that had been in there," Parker said.

He added that the term limit would be consistent with county policy.

In response to questioning by Evans, Parker said commissioners would continue to appoint Planning Board members.

Anderson said the commissioners' appointments committee makes the recommendations to the full board that in turn makes the appointments.

"If you all (commissioners) appoint and choose the members of any board, it would seem only fair if for any reason you wanted to remove that person there ought to be some provision or authority to," Quick said. "I think any board member serves at the pleasure of county commissioners."

"I agree," Anderson said. "We were elected by the people to serve, and therefore we should have the authority."

Parker said there had been some questions on his mind and that he had spoken with the School of Government, which expressed similar concerns that such a policy should be spelled out.

Price asked that if a person fills an unexpired term were they then limited to just two full terms to keep the years of service at nine or less or if they could still serve three full terms.

Anderson said such situations "rarely happened" and that people served until relieved.

"I don't think it has been a problem in the past the way we have handled it," Anderson said.

Quick said that had happened to him while serving on the Airport Authority. He had served out his time, but was kept on to continue work on an ongoing project.

Evans said he was concerned about setting different precedents where length of service is concerned.

Anderson said that the appointment committee at times would recommend that someone who has valuable knowledge or experience continue to serve.

The committee left unclear if it recommended any changes on term of service.

Evans broached the issue of commissioners serving on the Planning Board, but did not mention Commissioner Steve Keen, who serves on that board.

"I have heard some comments concerning membership of being on both boards," Evans said. "I know it is not a conflict of interest at this point. I think commissioners need to have the foresight for the possibility in the future it may happen and be deemed as a potential conflict. Where do we stand on it?

"The Planning Board is a concoction of the county commissioners exclusively, not like the Social Services and Health Department (boards) and other departments. This is something that is tied directly to the county commissioners."

Quick said the boards like Social Service and Health that Evans mentioned were ones in which commissioners serve in an oversight capacity.

"It is hard to draw distinction between one board and another board," he said. "I see where you are coming from. I have a real problem with Commissioner (Sandra) McCullen and her position with the school board and any discussions that relate to the school board to me has to be a conflict of interest. I know legally that it isn't. But in my mind the perception, and what I hear the perception there is that is a conflict, the same thing with Commissioner Keen on the Planning Board. There seems to be a perception among a lot of people that there is a conflict."

Speaking to Anderson, Quick said nothing is heard about such a conflict on the Airport Authority or other boards because "it doesn't get on the front page of the paper. So people don't have that public perception of it."

Quick added that he did not know how it would be written out or codified without making it look like a "personal vendetta against this person."

Anderson corrected Quick that he (Anderson) serves only in an advisory role on the Airport Authority.

Parker pointed out that the health and social services boards are mandated by law.

"The county does not have to have a Planning Board," he said.

Anderson said he would like to see the Planning Board be more long-range in its scope of planning and Quick added that we would like to see a better exchange of information between that "bad word MPO" and the Planning Board.

Quick was speaking of the strained feelings between the Planning Board and Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. Price serves as chairman of the staff arm of the MPO. Quick serves on the MPO as well.

He said he believes the information flows better from the MPO to the Planning Board than the other way.