County Planning Commission Resigns

Seven commissioners resign Thursday


Gila County's planning and zoning commission resigned Thursday -- except for the most recently appointed member, Travis Williams of Globe.

The mass exodus was a combination of a show of support and protest.


Chris Benjamin, former commissioner

The support was for Terry Smith, deputy director of the county planning office, who is going to work for Miami, ending his many years with the county today, Friday.

Smith declined to comment for this story.

The commissioners who submitted resignations included remarks about the high regard they have for Smith and the fact they would return to the commission if he remained on staff, according to the recording clerk for the meeting, Beverly Valenzuela.

The protest was an expression of frustration with Planning Director Joe Mendoza, according to Gila County Supervisor Shirley Dawson, who was asked to attend the May 18 meeting of the commission.

"They said it has been a festering problem," Dawson said. "The director does not attend the commission meetings and when he does he shifts the responsibility to the deputy director."

Mendoza said he had heard several different versions of why the commission resigned, none of them firsthand, so he could not comment.

"We're all overworked and under a lot of stress," Mendoza said. "Terry is doing what's best for him. He will be missed and is taking a lot of experience and expertise with him."

As for the impact of the mass resignation, Mendoza said they are assessing what needs to be done.

Dawson expressed her own concerns about Smith leaving.

"The county spent quite a bit of money on a study to help the department run smoother, and now one of our key people there is leaving."

Resigning Thursday were Chairman Walt Smith of Pine, Vice Chairman Mitch Malkovich of Claypool, Chris Benjamin of Star Valley, Gene Hazen of Globe, Frank Jimenez of Claypool, and Ernest Lazoa.

Valenzuela said another commissioner, Andy Ooms, sent an e-mail resignation to Chairman Smith. She said she has yet to receive an official letter of resignation from him, however.

Dawson said it is her understanding that the county is required by statute to have a planning and zoning commission. However, appointing new members is not currently on the agenda for the supervisor's May 23 meeting and no meeting is scheduled for May 30.

Supervisor Tommie Martin said each supervisor may appoint three members to the commission, as long as those people reside in the nominating supervisor's district. Most of the commission members have served a long time, Dawson said. In addition to the protest regarding Mendoza, Dawson said they also expressed frustration about the time the department takes with requests.

Walt Smith said the resignations were a statement that they were not happy that the deputy director had resigned.

"There was no one specific incident, but a series of incidents over the years, that led Terry Smith to resign, at least that is how he put it," Walt Smith said. "He is very experienced, knowledgeable and professional, and one of the county's best employees."

Martin said she had some advance warning that the mass resignation might take place, but she did not know it was planned for Thursday.

"The group has worked hard at a thankless job and I have served on the commission with some of the members," Martin said. "They have broken in three or four planners and I think they just don't want to break in any more."

The supervisors must seat a new commission before anything else can go through the planning process, Martin said. "I'd like to see some women and young people on the commission," she said. "Ideally they should have some planning and zoning background, or at least an interest in planning. They should also have an interest in Gila County and its future."

For more information, call Jo Johnson at (928) 474-2029.

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