No Change In Geographic Requirement For Planning Commissioners
Aug 25, 2016 03:13PM
● By Tyler Warren
Map of Murray Council Districts
On August 2, the Murray City Council shot down a proposal that would alter a section of the code mandating a geographical requirement for members of the planning commission. Currently, there is a requirement for a commissioner from each of Murray’s five districts, with two at-large positions. The proposal would have changed the language of that section of the code from a requirement to a consideration.
Planning commissioners are recommended by the Mayor for approval by the City Council. It is not an elected position with a constituency. Therefore, the planning commission did not see a reason to tie their commissioners to each of the districts.
Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency Tim Tingey, who represented the planning commission in the August 2 meeting, cited a section of the code that states the intent for diversity in the Mayor’s recommendations to the council. The requirement of an additional geographical requirement was seen as redundant.
“The [commissioners] have to look at the broad community, and so the geographic representation, in my opinion, does not really play into that. They’re not to look differently at the area they live in versus another area and [it’s a concern of ours that] the geographic requirement promotes that.”
But the council thought there were merits to the requirement in this regard.
“I feel it’s important, even though they don’t represent the constituents, they still come from that area. You have different ideas from different areas,” said Councilman Brett Hall.
Councilman Jim Brass, who was absent for the August 2 vote, spoke up in a preliminary meeting on July 19. He said that the planning commission provides a good opportunity for residents to learn how their city functions. “I don’t want to limit our citizens,” Brass said. “I’m here because I got involved in the planning commission.”
The planning commission also pointed out the fact that Murray’s districts do not necessarily guarantee a balanced representation of commissioners. In a planning commission meeting on June 16, Commissioner Phil Markham said that even though the city is currently following the letter of the law, a large part of Murray still lacks adequate representation.
It has been tough to find replacements when positions fall vacant. Commissioners serve [three-year] terms, but after that it can take months to find a qualified applicant. It took four months to appoint a commissioner to district two. [Another district has remained vacant for four months]. The rigidness of the code also forced one commissioner to give up her spot when she moved to another part of town.
But the City Council remained unconvinced. Councilwoman Diane Turner suggested more aggressive “advertising” could help fill positions. She thought the grouping problem could be solved under the current code as well.
“That kind of falls back on the Mayor’s office to be aware of that and to make sure there aren’t clusters,” Turner said.
Dave Nicponski was the sole vote in favor of the proposed change. He didn’t think the Mayor would allow representation to become unbalanced without the geographic requirement. “I just thought there was another avenue we could pursue... You have to have faith in your elected official,” Nicponski said.
He also thought making the code less rigid could mean a more diverse candidate pool in more ways than geography alone. “We can look at experience,” Nicponski said. This sentiment was echoed by members of the planning commission.
But Turner offered a reason for why the most qualified candidate might now necessarily be the best one.
“When we have a council meeting we don’t get a lot of people there unless it has to do with zoning. I don’t think they should be specifically educated in [planning and zoning]...I think laypeople are very important in that position,” Turner said.
“[Removing the geographic requirement] just kind of opens the door for picking and choosing who we should have instead of making sure we have a diverse representation. It’s a tough committee and an important committee. And it’s important that we’re getting proper representation,” Turner said.