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Planning Commission opposes voting privileges for ex officio members

Thursday, December 15, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though there were some questions about what route to take, members of the Planning Commission this week left no stone unturned in expressing their unanimous opinion that ex officio members not count towards committee quorums or have the privilege to vote. The City Council may decide the matter today.


The commission voted 8-0, with Commissioner Dave Anderson absent, to support changing its bylaws, the city code, and the charter to reflect that opinion and to draft letters to the appropriate bodies stating this opinion.


“Part of what we are trying to get at, I think, is taking away questions, trying to remove any shadow. I know our attorneys have said one thing, and yet other people have suggested that the change should be made in the city charter versus change to be made in the city code. Well, I think we’re trying to remove questions. And we are only making suggestions. We can’t do any of these things ourselves,” said Chair Dave Sullivan.


Under the city charter, it is clear that the Planning Commission has four ex officio members: the city manager, the Director of the city’s public works department, the president of the AISD Board of Trustees, and the chair of the Board of Adjustment. It is unclear what the role of an ex officio member is, exactly.


After becoming chair of the Board of Adjustment, Jeff Jack had been sitting on the dais of the Planning Commission and attending subcommittee meetings. He is also of the opinion that, as an ex officio, he has the right to vote.


Council members will take up the issue today, in two opposing items which could alter the city code. Contrary to what is indicated on the agenda, Council Member Kathie Tovo is the co-sponsor of the item that would grant voting privileges to some ex officios, and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole is co-sponsor of the item that states ex officios would not have voting privileges. Council Member Bill Spelman is the sponsor of both items, not indicating that he is supporting both items but apparently as a matter of courtesy to Tovo.


“I would hate to see us have 13 voting members. I don’t think that would be the right thing to happen. I think this is kind of overkill. I don’t think we should be sending something to City Council telling them to amend the charter. And I think that if the intention is for ex-officio members not to vote, we could take care of that,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti. “I disagree that we need to go to all of these lengths to make that happen.”


“I understand Commissioner Chimenti’s reluctance to go to all these lengths, but having heard Commissioner Jack just say that the charter is the superior statute and it supersedes everything else, I think that for point of clarity and finality… I think we would have a lost opportunity, while the charter revision committee is in session, not to get this clarity in the superior document that closes it out once and for all,” said Commissioner Saundra Kirk


Though Jack did not vote on the recommendation, he did contribute his opinion to the discussion.


“I really appreciate the struggle that we’re having with this issue. Since this position of an ex-officio was created in 1953, me being the, I think, first person ever to take the opportunity to sit in the seat, this certainly raised some interesting issues,” said Jack.


“I think there is some ambiguity with regards to how to solve this issue. And I think that is the reason there are two issues before the Council this Thursday,” said Jack. “I understand the angst that it has created here. And I really appreciate the desire to get it resolved quickly. But in my opinion, what we are looking at here is an issue of what is the charter. The charter is our superior statute, and to change an element of the charter– can that be done through changing a city code or changing the bylaws?”


“City staff has indicated that changing the city code is the way to do it. I certainly appreciate that opinion, but I am wondering if that is actually a rock-solid legal opinion, since we have an issue with… the charter essentially being our constitution, and whether or not a local change in the rules can override that. Notwithstanding that, the Council is going to make its decision, and I am more than willing to live by whatever they come up with,” said Jack.

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