Dialogue With Public Crucial

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Fear-based policies are bad policies. Unwritten, fear-based policies are even worse. And unwritten, fear-based policies that violate existing, written policies? That is incomprehensible.

So why do some members on the Payson Unified School District’s board still feel the need to defend unwritten, fear-based policies?

First, if a policy is so great, the board should codify it. If it’s not good enough to write down, then don’t bother.

We applaud the school board members who are unraveling the unseemly, unwritten policy of not speaking to the public outside of board meetings.

The fact it is unraveling proves its absurdity.

No principles of leadership, vision or truth guide the sentiment of some that questions should be funneled to paid administrators.

Instead, an unfounded fear that board members will violate the open meeting law by discussing separately their opinions outside of a sanctioned meeting is thwarting robust discussion.

Fear of losing control of the discussion is preventing it from occurring in the first place. Advocates of this policy are hiding behind admonitions of what might happen. Nothing great, principled or visionary emanates from fear.

We’re of the opinion that more talk is better. The open meeting law is intended to ensure that publicly elected boards make decisions in public — it’s not intended to prohibit board members from talking with or expressing opinions to members of the public, including the media. In fact, the state attorney general says dialogue in the public’s view enhances the law’s intent.

We call on the school board to reaffirm its commitment to open dialogue. Board members shouldn’t question their ability to speak freely, or feel disloyal for doing so.

Fundamentally, this trend of formulating unwritten, patchwork policies that appear to contradict the district’s written policy manual is of great concern.

If some members on a school board, or a superintendent, can agree to such a thing, that severely undermines the integrity of the written policy as a whole.

It sets a dangerous precedent that board members and the superintendent have ad hoc discretion over which policies to follow. And that is in nobody’s interest.

No easy answers

If only bad guys would wear black hats and agree to sneer openly, perhaps it would be easier to serve on the Payson Town Council.

Sometimes everyone’s right — even if they’re in disagreement. That’s when the policy makers must simply wince, sigh, duck — and make the painful, no-win choice.

That’s what the Payson council did in approving an 11-house, 2.3-acre subdivision on Park Street — despite the vehement protests of many neighbors. In this case, we agree with the council — but sympathize with the neighbors. In truth, the question was straightforward.

The town’s voter-approved general plan and council-approved zoning laws years ago indicated that anyone who owned that 2.3-acre property could put 11 homes on it — or 11 mobile homes for that matter.

Most of the people who moved into the homes nearby didn’t know that. They saw a relatively low-density neighborhood with two or three homes per acre, many overlooking a lovely patch crowded with about 250 tall pines.

Turns out, they should have read the fine print.

Because now they want to protect their homes at the expense of another property owner — who also played by the rules and bought land based on the implied zoning.

So now he wants to build 11, $220,000 homes, which will serve another vital community need by providing decent housing at a price working folks like teachers, firemen and police officers can actually afford.

The owner didn’t necessarily want to crowd 11 houses onto his 2.3 acres — but he has to sell enough houses to cover the costs, which includes a sanitation district requirement he spend an extra $150,000 extending sewer lines and another $150,000 in assorted impact fees.

So who’s the bad guy here?

The homeowners dismayed at the likely change in the character of their neighborhoods? The landowner risking money and effort building homes the community actually needs?

The town council compelled by state law to approve a landowner’s plan, so long as it conforms to the zoning and the building code? The town and the sanitation district that piled on impact fees and infrastructure costs to avoid subsidizing new development?

Wish we knew. It all sounds like the lamentable conflict involving people serving real, but conflicting needs.

We can extract only two useful lessons here. First, homebuyers had best check the zoning on nearby land before they buy.

Second, excessive impact fees can sometimes work to hurt, rather than protect, the community.

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