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Board appointees delayed

GATESVILLE – More information is needed before the Gates County Board of Commissioners takes action on developing guidelines dealing with appointments to the county’s Planning Board and Board of Adjustments.

At their most recent meeting, the Commissioners tabled an item on the agenda regarding appointments to those two boards. They directed County Planner Jennifer Baptiste to dig deeper into the old minutes of the Commissioners and the Planning Board in an effort to unearth the presence of any documentation dealing with term limits and residency requirements.

Baptiste told the Commissioners that she, with the assistance of County Clerk Melissa Coe, had researched some of the old minutes, with no luck in locating what they were seeking.

“There are two choices of how they can be appointed, by determining Planning Board membership by representation through either township or voting district (residency),” Baptiste said. “Our ordinance does not specify on how to lay-out this board (through countywide representation and not from a single district). It’s up to you (commissioners) to determine that lay-out, for both the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustments.”

“Traditionally, we have tried to be geographically diverse in making these appointments,” said Commission chair Linda Hofler. “It’s not a written rule, but the intent is there to make sure that all areas of the county are equally represented.”

Commissioner Henry Jordan asked if the research revealed any information on term limits for the two appointed boards. County Manager Natalie Rountree replied that she had not found any such language.

“We implemented a two-term limit at some point; I don’t know if that information is in our (meeting) minutes or the minutes of the Planning Board,” Jordan said. “It’s been several years ago. It’s written somewhere. It was prior to 2008; I came on this board that year and one of first things we did (at a meeting) was to rotate out some of the Planning Board members because they had met their term limits. If there’s something in writing, we have to abide by that.”

If that past information cannot be located, Baptiste said it was her goal to draft a policy regarding equal representation and term limits for the Planning Board, have the commissioners to approve that document and then add it to the county’s set of ordinances.

“That way, from this point forward, we are being consistent with how membership on this board is handled,” Baptiste remarked. “We have something in the ordinance for the Board of Adjustments, but not for the Planning Board.”

“For the Board of Adjustments, those members serve a three-year term; however there is no wording on the number of terms they can serve,” Baptiste said, reading from an ordinance from March of 2007.

Hofler said she previously served on the Planning Board, first appointed in 2006. She was re-appointed to a second term in 2009.

“We were told then that Planning Board members could serve up to two, three-year terms,” Hofler recalled. “I don’t know if that was official; just what we were told.”

Currently, three Planning Board members – Chuck Brothers, Brenda Felton and Wade Askew – will see their three-year terms expire at the end of May. Felton and Askew have both reapplied to serve another term.

“Because there is nothing in the ordinance on who can be reappointed or not, I need some guidance from the commissioners on how to handle these reappointments,” Baptiste said. “It’s up to you to determine whether or not these Planning Board members one term, two terms or even three terms.

“We need to have the best information; what has been done in the past has basically set the trend for what the commissioners do,” noted Jordan. “If there are changes, we need to get some history on why it was initially done that way. We don’t want to undo something that was put in place for a specific reason.”

“I can go through the minutes again; maybe something was adopted that never made it into the minutes,” Baptiste said.

Hofler asked if Baptiste could perform additional research into the minutes and report back to the commissioners at their next regularly scheduled meeting (May 6).

“That would still be timely enough to make these reappointments,” Hofler said.

“Whatever you find in those old meeting minutes, that’s what we’ll need to do any revisions,” said Board Vice Chair Jack Owens. “If you don’t find anything, then we’ve got to create something.”

Hofler then inquired if there were any slots open on the Board of Adjustments (five regular members and two alternates). Baptiste said that board needs to fill both alternate slots, but, to date, only one application has been received. The regular members and the alternates serve three-year terms.

The commissioners agreed to table the issue until the May meeting, to include making a decision on how to ensure equal representation on both boards – using either townships or voting districts as the criteria – from across the county.

Prior to voting on the motion to table the issue, the commissioners heard from Brothers, the current chairman of the Planning Board.

“This is the second such event where our Planner (Baptiste) and staff have gone back and searched the minutes to find out the procedures – what they were and when they happened,” Brothers stated. “We’re talking about going back 10 years to find this information. This reiterates the fact that our ambiguity and the lack of proper information in our zoning and subdivision ordinance is not accurate and incomplete. This only reinforces why we need to empower her (Baptiste) through her budget process which the commissioners need to embrace to get our zoning and subdivision ordinance up to date. There are absolutely no stated procedures that are given to a Planning Board member when they take that position. We have no standard operating procedures. We have no guidelines for her (Baptiste) to follow. This is why we need to come up to date.”

In regards to the term in which a Planning Board member can serve, Brothers said he believed there was a limit of two, three-year terms; and the member could reapply for another term after a 12-month absence from the board.

“That’s never been in print,” Brothers noted. “I’m of the opinion that if it isn’t in writing, then it never happened. All we’re going on is hearsay. We can’t find the documentation to show that particular structure. It seems that we’re just flying by the seat of our pants.”

Jordan said he believed there was a state statute that lays out the duties and responsibilities of a planning board.

Joe Greene, chairman of the Board of Adjustments, also spoke to the issue. He said he previously served on the Planning Board and was under the impression the term limits of that board were the same as Brothers described.

“I would recommend that we continue with a three-year term with the option of applying for a second term,” Greene said. “It’s been in place for 10 years or more and it seems to be working. We just need to add that criteria to our books.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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