April 7, 2006 in City

Vacant seats worry planners

By The Spokesman-Review
 

After almost a year without full membership, the chairman of the Spokane County Planning Commission is asking county commissioners to speed up appointments to the seven-member body.

“They have had people who have applied, they simply haven’t made the step of making an appointment,” said Doug Kelley, the planning commission chairman. “It’s just another voice of the public that’s not being heard.”

The planning commission is in the midst of considering significant proposals that will govern development along rivers and lakes. In the coming weeks, it will start to examine changes to the county’s overall growth guidelines – its comprehensive plan.

One seat that was vacated in June wasn’t filled until December. Another that came open at the end of the year when a term expired still hasn’t been filled.

There are signs, however, that the commission will soon be at full strength. Last month, commissioners appointed former Fairchild Air Force Base Commander Dave Jones to take the board to six members. Commissioner Todd Mielke said he plans to recommend a person for the remaining open seat in the coming weeks.

Each commissioner recommends two people from his district to serve on the board. The seventh seat is meant to represent the whole county.

Mielke said he has hasn’t made a recommendation because he’s spent much of the last few months lobbying on behalf of the county in Olympia, but he plans to have a name soon.

Jim Manson, the county’s building and planning director, said it’s better to be at full strength, but business has carried on with fewer members.

“We didn’t have any business that didn’t get taken care of because of the vacancies,” Manson said.

Although the board has continued work, the new members have missed sessions given to prepare the commission for upcoming decisions on the comprehensive plan, Kelley said.

“We have people coming in in the middle of very significant issues, who lack the benefit of the background and the training to be prepared,” Kelley said. “These are very deep and complicated issues. They have such an overarching effect on what could happen in our region.”

Lindell Haggin, who led the planning commission until December when Mielke decided not to reappoint her to the seat, said she’s concerned that the commission has lost a diversity of perspectives. She noted that after the recent resignation of a member in February, none of the board’s members is a woman.

Campaign finance reports show that two planning commissioners, Jones and Patrick Kennedy, have been campaign contributors to Harris, and Kennedy also has given to Mielke.

Harris said he doesn’t rule out qualified people to citizen boards just because they’re campaign supporters. He said he recommended Jones to the commission because he has served well as a member of another board and that his experience at Fairchild will help him with development decisions near the base.

“Nobody is my water carrier,” Harris said.


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