City Fails to Appoint Commissioners

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Council Ignores Violations – Just the Facts

By Dave Freneaux
    In the past two years the Mayor and City Council failed to lawfully advertise and fill four of the seven seats on Central’s Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Commission.  The P&Z Commission is a seven-member appointed citizen’s committee that makes all recommendations for changes to Central’s Master Plan and reviews all requests to rezone property. Here are Just the Facts.
    In 2013 Central’s City Council enacted an ordinance which assigned seat numbers and terms for all seven P&Z Commission members, specifying the expiration date of each seat.
    Central’s current City Council followed that law in its 2014 P&Z appointment, but violated the law by attempting to reappoint members without public notice in 2015.
    Central’s zoning attorney advised that the positions should then be lawfully advertised and appointed in 2015, but the Council took no action and allowed the members to stay on the commission after their terms expired, contrary to law.
    The Council again took no action at the expiration of the terms of two members in 2016.  Mayor Shelton’s office justified the lack of appointments by issuing a listing of terms which simply moved the 2016 expirations to 2017. Those term changes were never approved by the City Council and the Mayor’s listing of terms has been abandoned.
    At this week’s meeting, the City Council passed an ordinance brought by Mayor Shelton to completely re-invent the terms of all existing commission members, including extending and changing terms. 
    At the direction of Mayor Shelton, Central’s zoning attorney drafted the new ordinance, which also removed the requirement that public notice must be given to allow citizens to apply for a seat on the commission.  Council Members Messina and Vance sponsored the ordinance.
    During public comment, citizens objected to the lack of public notice. The Council then amended the ordinance to require public notice and the ordinance passed unanimously.
    The recent failures to lawfully appoint citizens to the commission was followed in November by the resignation of P&Z Chairman, Paul Burns, and in December by the firing of the City’s Planning Director, Woodrow Muhammed.  Burns resigned his position as P&Z Chairman after the City Council took action to allow more development in flood-prone conservation areas of Central against the recommendation of the P&Z Commission. There has been no formal statement as to the reason for Planning Director Muhammad’s dismissal.