Who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission probably doesn’t keep you up at night. But if you have a project come before the board, you probably want to know who is on it has some experience and that they will show up to hear your proposal.
The Payson Town Council is taking a hard look at how board members are appointed and their attendance.
This comes after several council members complained about the mayor having all the power to appoint board members and many of the commission meetings experiencing absentee issues.
In a lengthy discussion Oct. 14, the council waded through proposed changes to the town code that would ultimately give the council more power in appointments and removing commission members who don’t show up.
The changes have divided the council. Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian said the discussion was a waste of staff and the council’s time.
Councilor Jolynn Schinstock said the changes were needed, especially after she heard the mayor say he would not appoint someone to a commission, which left her with the impression he had lost his “objectivity.”
Mayor Tom Morrissey said he didn’t support the idea of the council nominating commission members as the mayor has always had that power and taking it away “flies in the face of tradition.”
This isn’t the first time the council has discussed the topic.
In mid-September they held a work session to discuss council appointed board commissions and committees.
“This meeting was scheduled following some council members having expressed an interest in changing the way citizens are currently appointed to boards, commissions and committees and evaluating criteria used to select nominees,” wrote Town Manager Troy Smith.
Current town code dictates that every regular member of a board, committee, or commission is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. The mayor also fills any vacancy with a person of their choice with the approval of the council.
Town Attorney Jon Paladini said the most “fundamental change” proposed to the code strips the mayor of this power.
Instead, the council appoints board members.
Councilor Barbara Underwood said she likes the change because the council can discuss appointments upfront instead of rejecting a mayor’s nomination if they are not a good fit.
Councilor Jim Ferris said he didn’t like the proposed change.
He said the council majority would ultimately hold the power to appoint people. He said that faction would then dictate who is appointed and if you aren’t in that clique, you might not make a board.
He suggested leaving the process the same.
Councilor Scott Nossek disagreed, saying this process makes it less political.
Morrissey said the move strips the mayor of one of their duties and makes him feel like the council doesn’t even need a mayor.
Tubbs-Avakian also disagreed with the proposed change saying the mayor has been nominating commission members “term after term.”
She said the whole discussion seemed unnecessary and a waste of time.
Vice Mayor Chris Higgins said he supports the change and gives the council an opportunity to provide more input.
Paladini said he would take the council’s input on appointments and update the draft. He would then present it to them for a vote at a future meeting.
Besides how commission and board members are appointed, the council looked at the attendance policy.
In recent months, several commissions have seen a number of members absent. If a quorum is not present at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, for example, a project can get delayed as the board cannot vote.
Paladini said while there are circumstances that legitimately prevent someone from attending to simply not show up or call to report your absence, is an issue.
Changes to the code address this issue.
If a person misses a majority of the meetings (50% or more), or has five absences or cannot attend training, they can be removed.
Additionally, all board members must attend open meeting law, conflict of interest and code of conduct training annually. Town staff will provide this training.
Finally, when it comes to the Planning and Zoning Commission, the council would like to see at least two of the members have design or construction-related backgrounds.
The council is expected to vote on the proposed changes at an upcoming meeting.