By Suzanne Adams
KINGMAN - After serving for six years on the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission, Commissioner Bill Abbott resigned last week. In a an interview with the Miner, Abbott said he resigned not because he had an ax to grind with anyone but because of a number of concerns he had with the planning and zoning process and with how the public was treated.
"I am leaving the commission for several reasons. It just became more and more apparent after each of our meetings that too many times we are not doing the job that should be done. I find the system is broken. It is not working, and five supervisors will not fix it unless there is a change in attitude," he said.
There have been several times in the last few years where members of the public have expressed concerns about a project only to be ignored by the Board or the commission, Abbott said.
"This has caused much of the outrage that is evident today. If we would listen, some of the poor decisions that have been made could have been avoided," he said.
Things have changed since he joined the commission six years ago, Abbott said. The commission has become nothing more than a rubber stamp.
"The attitude is to let the (Board of Supervisors) make the decisions," he said. "We make very limited input on the issues brought before us by the Planning and Zoning Department.
"If any controversy or public objections are expressed, the commission is inclined to just pass the issue on to the Board," Abbott said. "I object to that attitude and believe any issue we move forward to the Board should include the full opinion of the commissioners. When there is a disagreement among the commissioners, those disagreements should be thoroughly discussed. If the consensus is an agreement to disagree, the Board should be provided with both sides of the issue. Commissioners should not be placed in the position of having to offer a minority report to have important disagreements heard," he said.
"Too often, we use urgency as a reason for forwarding faulty or less-than-well-understood recommendations. That, in my opinion, is a disservice to both the Board and the public," Abbott said. "When there is public dissent, it deserves to be heard."
The process Abbott experienced during the General Plan review was the beginning of his decision to leave the commission, he said. He felt the revision was unnecessary, especially since the state had told counties that they did not have to review or re-adopt their general plans until July 2015 due to the downturn in the economy.
"The state is saying, 'Don't waste taxpayer money on such actions during these trying times,'" Abbott said. "The Mohave County manager and Board are apparently saying, 'We prefer to waste it.' I suspect most taxpayers do not agree."
Abbott also believes that what many county officials call a review of the plan was actually a complete rewrite.
County officials ignored the 5-year plan review requirements and implemented the 10-year re-adoption requirements, he said, adding that the review process was put into place with the support of two of the supervisors and the county manager to satisfy an agenda and to push it through the process. "A substantial amount of the re-write was completed well before the Technical Advisory Committee was appointed," Abbott said. "It was obvious from the beginning that public input, although required, was not wanted." Abbott admitted that the public was allowed some input, however people were not encouraged to participate in the advisory committee meetings.
At the P&Z Commission meeting, moving the approval process forward was urgent, even though some of the commissioners pleaded for more time to read and understand the potential consequences of the recommendations, he said. "When we were told the public was denied an opportunity to comment at one of the public workshops and we witnessed the disregard for public input during our briefings, it was apparent to me that an urgency to move forward took precedent over any input that may be provided by the public or commissioners unless you were part of the county manager-appointed committee," he said.
The minority report was the only way he and the other commissioners who had voted against the changes could express their opinion to the Board, he said. Abbott was also frustrated by the actions of the supervisors. At the Nov. 15 Board meeting, the supervisors showed a lack of interest in questions from the public or the minority report, he said. He is also upset by the disdain some members of the Board and commission have shown towards the public.
At the Nov. 15 Board meeting, Supervisor Tom Sockwell thought the Board should approve the changes to the plan based on the recommendations of the advisory committee because he said he had a lot of faith in the committee members.
"Mr. Sockwell had the nerve to imply that these people on the committee had credibility, but implied, by silence, the commissioners who voted against sending the recommendation to the Board, plus the professional and other citizens who spoke out against the re-write and the thousands of residents who would be affected by the changes were not considered credible," Abbott said.
The former commissioner credited Supervisor Gary Watson with attempting to repair some of the damage to the plan by sending it back to the commission to have the water conservation and other issues returned to the plan. Watson's motion died for lack of a second.
Abbott said Board Chairman Buster Johnson has done nothing to help improve public opinion of the Board, Abbott said. He said he was at a meeting when Johnson said he does not return phone calls. "Statements like that from a county supervisor do nothing to improve relationships with the people of Mohave County," Abbott said. "I would like for those managing Mohave County to consider one point. If you go into your boss' office with what you think are some really good concerns and the boss listens for two or three minutes, and then a little bell rings that tells you you are finished and can leave now; how would you feel? Do you think your boss showed you a lot of respect? This is how the public is treated," he said.
Now that the changes to the General Plan have passed, Abbott has concerns about the future growth of Mohave County.
"I think it (the changes to the plan) will hurt the growth and prosperity of the county," he said. Although most families looking for a new home will probably not consult the General Plan, businesses and industry will, and "when they review a plan devoid of interest in protecting the lifestyle of its residents and resources, a strong negative signal will result," Abbott said.
He agreed that the state and federal governments were responsible for the primary enforcement of clean air and water regulations, but "common sense dictates attention to such matters is the responsibility of those closest to it," he said, namely the counties, cities and towns that people live in. The revised plan does not reflect that responsibility, Abbott said.
He also had concerns about sections of the revised plan that now allow the Board to identify any change to the General Plan as minor. There may be items in the future that will have a large impact on the community but will never be heard by the public because they have been designated as minor, Abbott said.
The public, however, might still be able to do something about the changes to the General Plan, he said. When the county forwards the re-adopted plan to the state, it should raise some eyebrows. Unfortunately, the state has probably reduced staff so any re-adoption action by the counties, cities or towns will probably get little or no attention unless efforts are made by citizens to highlight any problems, he said. "Frankly, I am getting tired of seeing our county embarrassed by the decisions of our elected officials and hired employees. When I consider the biodiesel fiasco, the dog quantity confusion, the poor judgment on Hualapai Valley Solar and the destruction of the 2005 approved General Plan, I get discouraged," Abbott said. "All of the decisions to move forward (on these projects) were made over public objections and most under the pressure of unreasonable time constraints. Enough is enough!"