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Downsize eyed for Planning Commission

October 17, 2012 - Clarkston's Planning Commission will be downsized from 7 to 5 members if the City Council votes to change their current ordinance.

In addition to decreasing the number of Planning Commission members, Ordinance 129 will be amended to ensure the city council member appointed to the commission can vote.

The current members of the Planning Commission are Chair Jen Detkowski, Vice Chair Rob Bondy, Secretary Frank Shoebel, Bret Battishill, and Mike Sabol, who is the City Council's ex officio member. All members are appointed.

The decision to reduce membership is due to "difficulty getting a quorum," said Mayor Joe Luginski. With a seven-member commission, at least four members need to attend meetings for a quorum; however, only four citizens in the community have come forward to be on the planning commission.

"In such a small community, it is difficult to get so many people who have the time to get involved," said Luginski. He supports changing the number of members and believes the reduction to five will create "a solid commission with dedicated members."

When the topic of reducing planning commission membership was discussed at a council meeting on July 9, Former Mayor Sharron Catallo voiced concern that taking it down to five members would "spread yourselves too thin."

Catallo explained one of the duties of planning commission members is to gather information on matters before the council. "You need those people there to make an informed decision about what is going to effect everyone in the village; it's a huge responsibility," Catallo said.

With only five members, "to research information, if you have two or three things going on at the same time, it'd be almost impossible to get the kind of information you need to make an informed decision," she said.

Luginski responded, "The problem we have with the number being seven is we can't even get seven people who are willing to serve, show up, put the time in, and be willing to come and be a part of it."

Although Councilman Mike Sabol has been attending meetings, he has not been voting because there has been uncertainty about whether or not a council liaison can vote. While the council voted unanimously to appoint Sabol as a voting member on July 9, confirmation of his right to vote is not yet in the ordinance.

"With only five on the commission, if I am not a voting member, we don't have a quorum in some cases," Sabol said. With seven members, four are needed for a quorum. On a commission with five voting members, only three people are necessary for a quorum. Sabol favors amending the ordinance "just to clarify the liaison from the city council will be a voting member," he said.

According to Sabol, Michigan State law (Act 33 of 2008), allows a council member to vote on the planning commission. Changing the ordinance to reflect state law will "make it official to avoid questions and complaints," said Sabol.

Former Councilman Cory Johnston has mounted the complaints to which Sabol refers.

"The specific reason I say the present council 'liaison' to the Planning Commission cannot vote is Zoning Ordinance No. 129, Section 16.18, which states, 'A member [of the Planning Commission] shall hold no other municipal office except that one of such members may be a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals,'" said Johnston.

Johnston isn't the only one who isn't certain about the voting rights of the council liaison, however.

At the City Council meeting on July 9 when Sabol was appointed to the Planning Commission, the City's attorney, Tom Ryan, said the liaison on the commission could not vote without an amendment to the ordinance. On the other hand, City Planner Dick Carlisle told the council state law doesn't restrict the liaison from voting.

At the time, Luginski shared concern that if the council liaison could vote on matters before the Planning Commission, "the council person could have two votes on a matter." The council member could vote on an issue coming before the Planning Commission and later vote on it again when the item came before the City Council.

Township Trustee Neil Wallace, who attended the meeting said, allowing the liaison to vote "works fine because you have to keep in mind when they are on the planning commission ... they have a different role, the planning commission is merely recommending. So, it's not like they are deciding the thing twice."

Township board members who serve on the Planning Commission can vote on agenda items.

Determining who can vote and changing the number of members, is not the first adjustment for the Planning Commission this year. The City has also added a new requirement to Planning Commission membership.

All members of the commission must undergo training through the Michigan Citizen Planner program offered through Michigan State University.

The training is online and is made up of seven modules. After each module, the trainee takes a quiz, and they finish up the training by passing an exam. The training must be completed within six months.

If the Planning Commission ordinance is amended and Sabol becomes a voting member, he will be trained as well. The training of the whole Planning Commission will cost the city approximately $1600.

"I'm going to learn a lot," said Frank Shoebel, the secretary of the Planning Commission. Shoebel calls the training "a gift" from the city and believes it will make officials "civic-minded and conscientious citizens."

Shoebel doesn't have any objections to reducing the commission's membership. While he feels the planning commission members currently serving "are doing a good job," he notes there were many previous meetings "where a lot of people didn't show up."

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on amendments to City Ordinance 129 on November 7 at 7 p.m.

Clarkston News reporter
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