If one member of the county commission gets his way, the public will permanently have access to the 11-member planning and zoning board through e-mail addresses provided by Camden County.
The idea has created stir between the presiding commissioner and an associate commissioner who have different views. Commissioners reached a compromise late last week that will give the e-mail idea a 90-day trial period to see how it works.
Associate Commissioner Cliff Luber said he wants to see a way for constituents to contact their representatives on the planning and zoning commission. While it might not seem like an important issue in the overall scheme of things, Luber said he believes opening up communication will be beneficial and as far as he can tell, there's nothing to prevent the county from pursuing it.
Luber said when he first mentioned the idea, he was told it was "unethical and illegal." He has since learned that isn't true.
"Watching what planning and zoning was doing the year and a half before coming into office, I noticed there was little interaction between the citizens and the zoning commission members. Once I was in office, I checked into it. There wasn’t any method in which to contact these members," Luber said.
According to Luber, the planning and zoning department said at one time there was a generic e-mail address where citizens could write in, but the file had become corrupted and it was no longer available on the website. That generic email address has been placed back on the county website.
Luber said he is concerned the planning and zoning department could filter what information the board members received since it goes directly to them. He would prefer to have all members assigned an e-mail address that they can use.
"I brought up that planning and zoning commission members could have county email addresses issued to them so they could be contacted by their constituents. It was obvious citizens couldn’t discuss current zoning cases, but could discuss policy, such as Article 600. Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken and Don Hathaway, the planning and zoning director, summarily dismissed my idea."
Luber said they told him they try to discourage the public from having contact with board members.
"It is my view they were attempting to suppress citizen input and simply move on with an agenda. The planning and zoning board is a powerful position because they deal with one's private property. Why should they not have access and receive feedback to the folks they represent?," he said.
When the issue came up a second time, it was suggested the county commission check with the attorney who represents the county on planning and zoning issues.
Page 2 of 2 - Luber said Franken told him he had already done that and it was illegal and unethical. Luber said he later learned that wasn't true after checking with the attorney.
Franken said as long as the content of the messages were kept to appropriate subject matter, there would not be anything illegal or unethical about them having email addresses.
Franken said the county commission and/or the planning commission cannot require a planning commissioner to utilize that address or answer or respond to any of the emails directed to those accounts. Statutorily, that is not the way the process was codified to work. Utilization and subsequent response to inquiries at those addresses would be completely voluntary on the part of each individual planning commissioner.
"Also, I have had current planning commissioners tell me that if the county wants them to have an email address on the county server that they also need to provide an internet account and computer for their use at their homes,” Franken said. “I am not sure that getting these email addresses in place will improve the process.”