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News Term limits approved for planning board members

Steep slope maps removed from subdivision ordinance

In a 4-1 vote, the Macon County Board of Commissioners approved term limits for the planning board Tuesday night, Feb. 15. The board’s approved amendment to the planning board ordinance is somewhat different than what was proposed last month by Republican Commissioner Ron Haven. Board members voted on the measure after a lengthy public hearing session which saw 33 Maconians voice their opinions on the recommended changes to the county’s planning board ordinance.

Instead of implementing Haven’s proposed retroactive term limits that would have prohibited the sitting chairman of the planning board, Lewis Penland, and planning board member Susan Ervin, from being reappointed for another term this year, commissioners voted to pass term limits of two consecutive three-year terms, with the caveat being that they are not retroactive.

Therefore, Penland and Ervin, along with other planning board members who have served six consecutive years or longer, will be eligible to serve another term on the volunteer advisory board. After a planning board member has served six consecutive years – or more depending on their prior service – they must wait at least one year before becoming eligible for reappointment. Commissioner Haven was the lone dissenting vote against the new policy.

Commissioners will debate appointments to fill the two vacancies on the planning board at their continuation meeting, which is set to be held later this month.

The public hearing session focused on the proposed term limit discussion, but also centered around the polarization of the planning board, which has become increasingly negative.

Resident Sue Waldroop opened up the public hearing session, which lasted over an hour. Waldroop served on the planning board in the 90s, and has served as Chairman. “Serving on any voluntary board is a thankless, sometimes frustrating undertaking,” she said. “Contrary to recently published charges that planning board members wish to dictate to their fellow citizens, no planning board member nor any other advisory board member can do that,” stated Waldroop.

“The board I served on was lucky enough not to be attacked in the public press by name in such a personal and hurtful manner as what has been endured by current planning board members,” she said in criticizing Haven’s January email that went viral, where he criticized Penland’s leadership. Waldroop also told commissioners that term limits would cripple the effectiveness of the planning board.

“I am against planning board term limits,” said county resident Bill Van Horn. “Referencing what I am for; time and time again Macon County residents have come together and said they want to protect the beauty we have in Macon County. It is what makes us stay here or come here and that beauty attracts visitors and new businesses,” he said. “We need land use planning that strikes the right balance between protecting that beauty, our citizens’ health and our personal property rights,” concluded Van Horn, who was one of several people who spoke out against retroactive term limits.

Christina Oliver – a resident of Diamond Falls subdivision in Macon County who came before the planning board in November to criticize the subdivision’s developers – told board members that land-use regulations and a strong planning board are extremely important to the county. “I think that term limits are a reasonable concept, but my concern is the timing of the term limits,” said Oliver. “It seems to me like if there is an important issue that remains unresolved and is politically controversial, maybe that issue should be resolved before time limits are imposed,” added Oliver in supporting her argument that the experience and expertise of sitting planning board members should be considered before imposing retroactive term limits.

Oliver’s argument struck a chord with other citizens who spoke out against enacting retroactive term limits. However, a few people publically supported Commissioner Haven’s initial proposal. “I urge you to adopt all of the proposed amendments to the planning board ordinance tonight,” said citizen Vic Drummond. “Requiring a turnover in planning board membership will lead to broader citizen participation. I believe greater diversity would improve the board,” he said.

Sitting planning board member Jimmy Goodman also endorsed retroactive term limits during the public hearing session. “I think it’s come a time in this county to start thinking about getting other people on the board, because I know plenty of people who want to serve on that board who can’t get on for political reasons. There needs to be new blood on that board,” said Goodman in expressing his desire to remove politics from the planning board.

Following the public hearing session, Commissioners offered their opinions on the recommendations to the ordinance and the vitriol encompassing the planning board last month. Commissioner Haven said the planning board is not perfect and there is room for improvement. “I think Lewis Penland is a very good person. I just disagree with him on politics,” said Haven later on in the meeting. “I just want to put the planning board to where it will work for everybody,” stated Haven during the public hearing session. Haven believed retroactive term limits would promote fairness and equal opportunity for anyone wanting to serve on the advisory board.

“I did an awful lot of listening in January, because I didn’t want to respond emotionally,” said Commissioner Bobby Kuppers. “What happened on Jan. 13-14 was unacceptable and should not be the way the board chooses to treat the citizens of this county,” said Kuppers on Haven’s email and remarks he made at the continuation meeting on Jan. 14. Kuppers issued an apology to the planning board and it’s chairman, Lewis Penland, regarding the process in which matters were handled by Haven.

Fellow Commissioner Ronnie Beale agreed, saying Haven’s email was “out of bounds.” Both Democratic Commissioners want the board to take a closer look at applying term limits to all advisory boards in the near future as well.

Beale previously served as chairman of the planning board. During the public hearing session, he reiterated his original position to the board. The Board of Commissioners can remove someone from any advisory board if they have the political will to do so, he said. Beale noted that the county removed term limits in the past because “we wanted the continuity of people with the things we worked on,” he said.

“All members of the planning board, the one’s we agree with and the one’s we choose to disagree with, are volunteers. Regardless of what some may think, they do sacrifice many hours of their time to provide assistance to this board and this county. They don’t deserve to be ridiculed, demeaned, and derided by members of this board. The planning board is simply an advisory board, they cannot set policy,” said Commissioner Kuppers.

He also said some of the accusations made by Haven about planning board members setting their own agenda were untrue. “Put simply, those allegations are just false,” he said in maintaining that the planning board did exactly what the board of commissioners tasked them with in 2011. “The simple truth is that the planning board has worked on those tasks and only those tasks through the year 2011. Now it’s quite possible that some people won’t agree with the topics or the positions taken by individual planning board members, but that doesn’t mean they were out doing whatever they wanted,” he said.

After the public hearing session concluded, Commissioner Kuppers proposed an amendment to the planning board ordinance to ensure that the term limits would not be retroactive. County attorney Chester Jones put the recommended change on paper, during the meeting, before the board voted. Chairman Kevin Corbin, and Commissioners Bob Kuppers, Ronnie Beale, and Jimmy Tate endorsed the compromise, while Commissioner Haven voted the amendment down due to the elimination of the retroactive language.

Another major policy change passed by the board at their regular scheduled meeting dealt with the county’s landslide hazard maps, which are recognized in the county’s subdivision ordinance. A public hearing about removing the maps from the subdivision ordinance occurred after the term limits debate. Several people spoke out for and against removing the controversial maps from the ordinance, but ultimately, board members agreed that the scaling of the maps are not precise enough to be used as a regulatory tool. Commissioners unanimously voted to remove them from the subdivision ordinance as a result.


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