Mayor’s Planning Commission appointments approved

Gary B. Gray • Feb 25, 2013 at 10:34 PM

Sometimes the magic works; sometimes it doesn’t.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge has said he’s had an earful from builders and developers who want politics out of the Regional Planning Commission equation, so he recommended to the County Commission Monday night reducing membership from 15 to nine, including the reduction of county commissioners who serve on that body from six to four.

It just so happens that all planning commissioners’ terms have expired, so within the same resolution he decided to overhaul its makeup by appointing five people with extensive building, development, appraising and civil engineering experience.

In the end, Eldridge was one for two. Commissioners unanimously approved his appointments. But the number of members is a matter that will first be reviewed by the county’s Rules Committee. A recommendation by that committee then will be heard by the full commission.

Several commissioners spoke up, asking whether it was proper for Eldridge to dial in the exact number of planning commissioners.

“As far as the numbers on the planning commission, isn’t that determined by the County Commission?” asked Commissioner Steve Light.

County Attorney John Rambo answered Light saying, “If you’re not comfortable with it, the County Commission must decide which committee to send it through.”

Commissioner Mitch Meredith piped up: “Fifteen is a lot. It seems nine is a good number.”

It turns out that state law requires the procedure Light asked for.

“I don’t have a problem with the appointees, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with the number of proposed members, but I do think it should go to committee. That’s not something for Mr. Eldridge to decide,” Light said.

Eldridge, who mentioned nothing Monday about his resolution being separated at the hip, has said there is a need for the planning commission to be comprised of members with more expertise in these fields. He also said some builders and developers have the perception that burdensome regulations related to permitting may be “politically motivated.”

The reduction of two county commissioners would come from seats formerly held by Joe Corso, who is deceased, and Ken Lyon, who has decided to step down. This leaves four county commissioners on the planning commission whose terms expire in 2014: Alpha Bridger, Mark Larkey, Skip Oldham and Gerald Sparks.

The new appointees are: Rex Garrison, 23 years as a residential and commercial appraiser; Tim Hicks, 32 years in building and development; Sam Lindley, 34 years as a civil engineer designing residential, commercial and institutional projects; Chuck Mason, 30 years experience as owner/manager of a 100-plus employee company operating multi-state as a construction and farm equipment dealer; Joe McCoy, 30 years as a licensed surveyor in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Commissioners (Chairman) Greg Matherly and David Tomita were appointed to serve on the Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Medical Services Board, as recommended by Eldridge. The appointments came in the form of a resolution which spelled out that one of the nine board members must be the City-County Liaison Committee chairman.

The committee has no chairman. In fact, it has not convened in a year.

The resolution clearly showed that may need to change. It states that the committee “lacks a chairman, but there is a need to appoint a county representative to have a fully-functioning EMS board of directors.”

Tomita, who is running for a seat on the Johnson City Commission while planning to keep his spot on the County Commission should he win, said recently that there is not much interaction between the two bodies, though “they’re closely intertwined, whether you like it or not.” He also expressed dissatisfaction with the City/County Liaison Committee — a committee aimed at aiding communication.

Except for two packed meetings last year at which the topics of school funding and possible government consolidation resulted in some heavy-hitting discussions, the committee has been virtually nonexistent. The year prior and after have been typical, and meetings are reliably canceled time and time again.

Both Matherly and Tomita’s terms will end June 30, 2016.

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