The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


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City Council, December 18

Super majority requisite remains for vote on PC disapprovals
Legal advice to be sought by Council
Warwick Jones

As Council member Waring reminded us, the issue of the limited ability of the Council to override a disapproval decision by the Planning Commission (PC) has been before Council about 4 to 5 times. After last nightís meeting, nothing changed.

As the ordinance stands presently, City Council must have ĺ vote to override a vote of disapproval by the PC of matters that come before it. This means that 9 members of Council including the Mayor, out of 13, must vote on Council to overturn a PC decision. Or put another way, it needs only 4 members of Council to block on Council a disapproval recommendation by the PC. As the majority of Council members argued last night, this was not right. But the 8 votes were insufficient to make a difference. Nothing changed. The Mayor and Council members Seekings, White and Shahid voted against the proposed amendment change.

The actual proposal before Council last night was to reduce the super majority on Council to overturn a PC vote from 9 to 8. A joint meeting of Council and the PC was recently held and from the discussion last night, some Council members thought the PC would vote for the proposed amendment. It didnít. The vote on the PC was unanimous in rejecting the proposed change, though 2 of the 9 members were absent.

We doubt that the supermajority issue will go away. Council member Waring asked that Council seek legal advice on the issue and considering his earlier comments, this would be supported by Council member Moody.

Interestingly, it was only the Mayor was spoke against reducing the supermajority but he signaled that he was not opposed to any changes. Maybe a simple majority vote on Council would be sufficient for an override if only 5 members of the PC voted on an issue and the vote was 3 to 2, he said.

It was clear that the majority of those in favor of the amendment would have preferred a simple majority vote to block a PC disapproval. They thought it wrong that an appointed body could thwart an elected body. Council member Mitchell thought that the Council had more experience than the PC, worked harder, and therefore better placed to make a decision. Council member Waring thought that the present ordinance placed minorities in an inferior position in that they did not have the power to lobby the PC and Council as large developers. We did not agree with the logic but it seems he thought that Council was their friend and could more easily overturn a PC decision that was deemed unfavorable to them.

We donít know why those members of Council opposed to the amendment remained silent last night. Maybe it was because all they had to say had been said in previous meetings, and in the meeting with the PC. More likely, they knew the likely voting outcome and did not waste their breath.

We stand with the Mayor on the issue. We support a super majority vote but concede that some modifications to the existing ordinance should be considered, and 8 votes out of 13 is still a supermajority. The members of the PC are appointed by the Mayor and with the approval of Council. They are chosen, or ought to be, for their experience and talents. They are also expected to make decisions purely on merits and with no regard for politics. We werenít around when the law was first crafted in 1929 but weíll bet the supermajority was designed to minimize political influences on zoning decisions. We hope it stays.