I have heard complaints about county government officials since I started covering the county almost four years ago. Some of the complaints have been serious, others more run of the mill, but nothing that I found particularly unusual in my experience as a reporter. Everyone, everywhere, seems to have some sort of problem with their government officials.
Recently though, I've noticed that some county officials are turning more of a deaf ear to complaints from the public.
The two most serious complaints I've heard are that there were no slots for members of the public on the General Plan Technical Advisory Committee, and the public and animal rescue groups were left out of the review of the county animal codes.
The TAC is in charge of recommending changes to the General Plan to the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The Board asked County Manager Ron Walker to appoint people to the committee. The current members of the committee are public engineers, real estate consultants, real estate agents and others. A list of the committee members can be found on the Mohave County Planning and Zoning website at www.co.mohave.az.us.
All of the members of the committee bring a certain expertise to the table. But as resident Rick Veradt recently told Supervisor Gary Watson, the committee is weighted too heavily to one side. There is no one from the public there to balance out the experts.
One of my journalism teachers once told me that experts are wonderful, they can give you all sorts of information and hypothetical situations, but if you want the real story, talk to the people that are directly affected.
Yes, some of these engineers, builders and real estate people will be affected by the changes to the General Plan, but the majority of the impact will be on the public.
From what I understand, a similar thing happened with the review of the county animal codes. The Environmental Health, Animal Control and Planning and Zoning departments worked together over several months to review and suggest changes to the codes. These changes will directly affect the day-to-day operations of breeders and animal rescue groups in the county, but the latter weren't asked for their input.
Some county officials claim the public has had ample opportunity to voice their views about changes to the General Plan at four public meetings held earlier this year, and will have more opportunities at future Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings.
But, as one resident recently told the commission, it's too late by the time an issue comes before the commission or the Board, and the three minutes allotted to argue your case before either the Board or the commission is too short, especially on issues as complex as reviewing the county General Plan or changes to the animal codes.
I agree with the residents. These issues and others need to be brought before the public well before they reach the commission or the Board. Four meetings, one in each major population center in the county, to collect suggestions about what the public would like to see in the General Plan is not enough. Those suggestions have to be picked apart, chewed over and general consensus reached about what the public, as well as the engineers, developers and real estate agents, want.
The process is long, tedious and can be exasperating. I should know. I've attended some of the meetings for various area plans.
But, the sense of accomplishment and pride that residents get out of creating something like an area plan, making changes to the General Plan or public health codes, makes them feel like they have a voice in local government and their community. Residents are more likely to follow the rules if they helped create them than if the rules are foisted upon them.
Some government officials, such as Supervisor Gary Watson, have been trying to reach out to the public. Watson has met with several groups of residents over several different issues. He's working with the Mohave County Fair Association to bring more events to the fairgrounds and he's working behind the scenes on several other issues. He could be a little more vocal on some of the issues, but when you sit on a Board of three, it's hard getting anything done if you're the odd man out.
Mohave County officials have a truly unique situation; they have residents who want to be involved in their government. There are not too many places that can boast of that.