May 3, 2012 in Washington Voices

Valley planning commission gets ‘range rider’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A recent controversy about not excusing the absence of a Spokane Valley planning commissioner who recused herself from meetings has caused the city to bring in a facilitator for one-on-one meetings with the seven planning commissioners.

Commissioner Marcia Sands works as a geologist for the Department of Ecology, which must approve the state-mandated update of the city’s Shoreline Master Plan. She told the city in March that Ecology was requiring her to recuse herself from the discussions to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. At the April 19 planning commission meeting, a majority voted not to excuse Sands; six unexcused absences could lead to Sands’ removal from the commission.

The facilitator is former Spokane Valley deputy city manager Stan McNutt, who has worked as a problem-solving “range rider” for the International City/County Management Association for 18 years.

In an email sent to each planning commissioner, McNutt wrote that his discussions would be confidential and that he was looking for ideas to “improve organizational harmony in the procedural area.”

He wrote, “Could your planning commission rules use a few minor ‘tweaks’ or additions to help avoid any future confusion which tends to ‘attract detractors’? (meaning the public and the press!) Your work is much too important to be unappreciated in any circle.”

Sands said she met with McNutt last week. “I think he’s just trying to help better define the objectives and values of the planning commission,” she said. Sands said the planning commission is working to set up a special meeting next week with McNutt.

The planning commission meeting scheduled for today was canceled, but not because of the controversy, Community Development Director John Hohman said. City staff weren’t able to finish some of the shoreline documents in time but should be ready for the May 10 meeting, he said.

A special meeting to review planning commission rules and procedures is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday. “There was confusion on policies and procedures, and Stan is here to straighten that out,” Hohman said.

Sands said she is still considering resigning from the planning commission, but not because of the controversy. Her term is up at the end of the year and the bulk of the meetings this year will be on the shoreline update, she said.

“I’m going to be traveling a lot this year anyway,” she said. “I’m letting the process work its way through. I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Sands said she plans to make a decision next week.

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