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P&Z to retain applicant review authority

By Staff | Feb 5, 2013

It is not known when the Planning & Zoning Commission got the authority to interview applicants seeking to serve on the P&Z, but it will continue to do so.

City council deadlocked Monday on a motion by Councilmember Rana Erbrick to direct the P&Z to abolish its practice of screening candidates and making recommendations as to who should serve for council’s final approval.

Erbrick said it was very unusual to allow one board to make the decision as to who gets appointed while other boards go through council for approval.

“It’s an unnecessary step for the P&Z. It’s our job to figure out who the best person is, not theirs,” Erbrick said. “We need to affirm the P&Z works for us.”

Erbrick quickly made the motion to instruct P&Z to turn over the appointment screening process on the board. Councilmember Marty McClain seconded.

P&Z board chairperson Patti Martin said she understood why this subject was brought up, since the practice started three years ago under circumstances she understands some might question.

Still, she said the practice is justified.

“We are the only quasi-judicial board. Most decisions we make are legal and binding, so it’s important to get the best candidates,” Martin said. “This is not a social club. Everyone brings expertise.”

Councilmember and P&Z liaison Chris Chulakes-Leetz took Martin’s side, saying it takes special knowledge to be on the board and that things should continue to be as they are.

“I disagree. I’m concerned about alienating folks and the perception,” Erbrick said. “I talked with people who I thought were good people, and it got me to thinking.”

Martin said she was “flabbergasted” by Erbrick’s words, saying she treats everyone who applies with courtesy and respect.

“None of these boards feel appreciated and that’s why we get no applicants,” Martin said.

The council quickly went on the offensive to say the P&Z board was appreciated, however, Councilmember Lenny Nesta pointed out “The buck stops here.”

“The vote should be here like on every other commission,” Nesta said. “You do a great job, but it’s our responsibility to choose the make up of the board.”

Mayor John Sullivan said the council doesn’t have an understanding on many of the issues with which P&Z has to deal.

“We on the dais don’t have the expertise. We want and need input,” Sullivan said. “I don’t see how this hurts anyone.”

Chulakes-Leetz said City Manager John Szerlag is going to another firm for expertise in the hiring of a fire chief, and if the council takes over the decision making on potential appointments, they will be losing input.

Derrick Donnell, Kevin McGrail, Nesta and Erbick approved the measure. Chulakes- Leetz, Sullivan, McClain and John Carioscia opposed the measure, in the second council deadlock in as many weeks.

In a related issue, the city council also set a vote for Feb. 25 on an appeal of the P&Z’s board of Zoning Adjustments and Appeals to limit one boat canopy to any resident.

Martin weighed in on the topic during the discussion on Erbrick’s motion saying if every waterfront home had two canopies it would turn the canals into a tunnel.