11/11/09 — Planning Board critiques ordinance wording

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Planning Board critiques ordinance wording

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 11, 2009 1:46 PM

Efforts by the Wayne County commissioners to craft a Planning Board ordinance that would allow them to remove members "with or without cause" Tuesday night were railed against as not only being "unconscionable," but as posing a threat to "politicize" the Planning Board.

Planning Board members said at their meeting that the wording would create an atmosphere of fear that would keep people from voting their convictions.

With that in mind, the board voted unanimously to ask commissioners to strike the phrase from the ordinance. Board member David Quick was absent and county Planning Director Connie Price announced that member Brad Wells has stepped down from the board. No additional comment was made about the resignation.

Commissioners first broached the idea months ago of rewriting the 40-some-year-old ordinance that created the Planning Board. It is one of several planning-related issues commissioners have tackled.

Already approved is a new subdivision ordinance that gives commissioners the final say on plats. Waiting in the wings is a similar change to the mobile home park ordinance.

There was little discussion by the Planning Board on the other points of the proposal, which includes setting terms limits of three consecutive three-year terms, the same as those for other county boards.

"I was at the commissioners' meeting the day this was brought up," board member Mike Aycock said. "That thing with or without cause kind of bothers me. If I do something wrong and I am taken off the Planning Board, I'd like to know why because maybe in my mind it may not be wrong."

"I'll go further than that. I think it is unconscionable," board member Chris Cox said. "They do that and if they don't like what you have to say about them or don't like your opinion, they can remove you for not agreeing with them.

"That is a problem. That is a serious problem. Who on this board would want to sign up for a board that you can't actually vote the way your heart feels like you need to vote on something and feel repercussion from it from somebody on the board of commissioners because we don't think like they do?"

Aycock agreed.

"If I can't express my opinion, why should I be on the board?" he said.

"Exactly," Cox said.

More than one commissioner questioned the harshness of the wording, Aycock said.

The wording "politicizes" the Planning Board, Cox said.

"The change will cause the board to make political decisions," he said.

"I'd like to see it carried back to commissioners and ask them to reconsider it," Aycock said.

Board member Hattie Frederick said she thought commissioners should clarify what they mean.

"I think it is very clear," Cox said.

Cox said people would be reluctant to serve because of the fear that they would be dismissed if their opinion differed from that of the commissioners.

Aycock said he realizes commissioners have the authority to dismiss whomever they want to, but that he feels the public should be told why.

Board Chairman Joanne Summerlin said she realizes that apointees serve at the pleasure of the board.

"I don't know if they have to give a reason," she said.

"I am the only one they do not have to give a reason to," said County Attorney Borden Parker, who was in attendance.

Parker said the question had been posed to him as to whether or not commissioners could dismiss an appointee who was appointed to a specific term in office. Parker said he could find no case law for it and nor could officials at the School of Government at Chapel Hill.

It was not clear that the language "serving at the pleasure of the board" would suffice, hence the wording "with or without cause," he said.

Saying a member could be removed for cause would require that the county spell out a list of causes, he added.

Cox asked Parker how other counties handle the issue. Parker said he could not answer that question.

Cox said he would like to know so that he would understand if he was making more out of it than was needed. He asked how the health and social services boards were affected.

Those two board have one-year terms and were created by state law, not local ordinance, Parker pointed out.

Board member and commissioner, Steve Keen asked if the wording would set a precedent for all county boards or if the Planning Board had been singled out.

Commissioners could set a precedent, Parker said. However, Parker said he could not answer whether the Planning Board had been singled out.

Aycock suggested changing the wording to read that commissioners could remove someone for cause for actions detrimental to the county.

The problem arises in defining what constitutes detrimental, Parker replied.

In other business, the Planning Board took no action on a rezoning request by Cecil Bryan for property he owns off U.S. 117 in the Mar Mac community. The property currently has three duplex apartments and Bryan wants to add a triplex. The 1.623 acres are currently zoned Agriculture-30 and Community Shopping. Bryan has asked that it all be zoned Residential-20.

The property falls within the 65-70 day-night average sound level noise zone near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Price distributed a letter from Dennis Goodson, deputy base civil engineer, who wrote such development was discouraged. The planning staff had recommended that it not be approved. It will now go to commissioners who could schedule a public hearing on the request.