Pasco County commissioners want a greater say, individually, regarding appointments to the Pasco County Planning Commission.
The issue arose at the county board’s July 6 meeting, when commissioners were set to approve two-year reappointments of planning commissioners Charles Grey, Christopher Poole, Roberto Saez and Don Anderson.
The item had been placed on the board’s consent agenda — meaning no discussion was expected and it would be approved as part of a bundle of agenda items.
But Commissioner Mike Moore pulled the item to express his desire to consider such appointments individually in the future — instead of voting on them collectively.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, however, pushed for a bigger change.
She wants to discard the process that’s been used recently to choose the planning board.
Instead of soliciting applications and then voting on appointments as a collective county board, she called for individual commissioners to choose a planning board member to represent their district.
“I prefer to appoint someone to that (planning board),” Starkey said.
Jack Mariano supported the move.
“Commissioner Starkey, I agree 100%. I don’t have a single person from District 5 and there’s not a single person from District 1, either.”
Moore said he had no problems with what Starkey and Mariano were suggesting.
It’s similar to the process that commissioners used in the past to select members of the planning commission.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder told the board that changing the selection process would require an amendment to the land development code.
Steinsnyder added: “I’ll also remind you that the reason you moved to board appointments versus commission appointments was to move forward the way most other jurisdictions do it.”
Having the entire county board select planning commissioners reduces potential for “political appointments,” Steinsnyder said.
“It is probably your most important board,” Steinsnyder said.
“That’s why I feel that the west side should be represented,” Starkey said. “They don’t have to live in a commission district. I may not find anyone who qualifies in my district,” she said. “But at least I want someone on the (planning) board who understands my district.”
Commission Chairman Ron Oakley said he doesn’t have a problem with the current planning commission.
“I think the planning commission has been operating very well. I don’t have any feeling of not being represented on that planning commission board. They’re all our citizens,” Oakley said.
However, Oakley joined in with the rest of the commission when they approved a motion by Starkey to extend the terms of Grey, Poole, Saez and Anderson for six months.
That will allow time for new commission district lines to be drawn through redistricting.
After that, commissioners agreed they would appoint one planning commissioner each, with the full board choosing an at-large member. The school board seat on the planning board would not be affected by the change.
Planning board members who already have been reappointed to longer terms would need to be addressed separately, Moore noted.
The issue was bought up at the Pasco County Planning Commission’s meeting on July 8, by Denise Hernandez, the county’s zoning administrator.
She informed the planning board about the county board’s action.
David Goldstein, the chief assistant county attorney, said the possibility remains that the planning board’s composition could remain the same — since commissioners have the option of appointing someone who lives outside of their district.
Future vacancies, he said, will be filled by individual board members, except for the at-large seat, which will be selected by the entire board. The school board seat will not be affected.
Because the change requires an amendment to the county’s land development code and because it would not take effect until redistricting is done, it might not occur within six months, Goldstein said.
“My understanding is that there’s an issue with the census data. It’s not out yet. The redistricting has to be based on the census data.
“It may not occur in six months. It may roll into the next year. I suspect what will happen is that we may need to be going back to the board saying, ‘We need to extend another six months, or something to that effect,” Goldstein said.
Currently, there are no representatives on the planning commission from Oakley, Starkey or Mariano’s districts.
“There are three planning commission members from Christina Fitzpatrick’s district and three members from Commissioner Moore’s district,” Hernandez said.
The planning commission is a volunteer board, which provides recommendations on comprehensive land use, zoning, and land development code changes, as well as conditional use requests and operational permits. It is the final decision-making body for special exception applications.
Planning Commission Chairman Grey quipped that zoning administrator Hernandez was behind the planned change.
To which Goldstein responded: “It was not the recommendation by staff or the county attorney’s office.”
Planning board member Anderson asked: “Does that (the new process) make it more of a political appointment?”
Goldstein responded: “Yes, that was one of the reasons the county attorney’s office originally recommended that it be the decision of the entire board, so the entire board could pick the best fit from an expertise perspective, more so, versus, say, they happen to live in the district, perspective.”
Serving on the planning commission requires a certain amount of expertise in real estate, planning, development and so on, Goldstein said.
“I think the county attorney’s office, and probably the planning staff as well, thought the appointment should be based on knowledge and expertise, rather than where you live,” Goldstein said.
Published July 14, 2021