Letter: Review process flawed from the start

The Sept. 12 Miner's front page article headlined, "The P&Z accepts changes to General Plan," provided a good summary of the commissioners' decision and some concerns expressed by attending stakeholders plus a minority view by one of the commissioners. The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Board of Supervisors next month. If they approve the recommendations, as now proposed, it will have significant impact upon the county planning process and weaken concerns relative to our natural, scenic and historic assets, and it will remove concerns currently in place to maintain the lifestyle of county residents.

The article provided some indication of stakeholder concerns and emphasized one expressed by Wayne Smith. Concern over the proposed changes have been previously included in the Miner. Jeanne Kentch contributed an article relating to protecting water in Mohave County, and Susanne Adams contributed an article covering a General Plan group discussion with Supervisor Watson. There were numerous comments posted supporting Jeanne Kentch and other concerns that were probably stimulated by her article.

Although the article did a good job in identifying stakeholders' statements during the hearing, it could not reflect the discouragement presenters felt knowing that many had been presented prior to the hearing which were totally ignored with no encouragement that any requests for reconsideration would meet any greater reception during the briefing. Pre-briefing efforts included meetings held with members of the Mohave County Development Services and P&Z management; many concerns were submitted in writing; and some were provided to the P&Z very early in the process before the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was appointed in hopes some additional concerns would be considered. All requests for consideration, with the exception of one token compromise, were ignored.

There are also a few things the article did not say. It did not say the agenda item was not the topic the county publicity identified as the purpose for the General Plan review. Public announcements through the period of public meetings told the public the effort under consideration was only a review of significant issues experienced by Mohave County within the last five years. It emphasized that the proposed 2010 General Plan review is not intended to be a complete rewrite. That publicized process is consistent with the existing provisions within the General Plan and it was presumed it would be conducted with minimal administrative burden as suggested within the plan. No known public announcements, posters, or other information provided during public meetings indicated the process was anything other than that which was publicized as its purpose.

The first indication that was being acted upon as a complete re-write or "update" was when the agenda item was posted in preparation for the commissioners' briefing. Since the agenda item is not consistent with the published purpose of the review, the public was mislead and could not have been aware of the process as it is currently moving forward. It appears that agenda items should not have been recorded or opened and no vote should have been taken.

The article also told us the decision was a close 5 to 4 decision, with the chairman casting the deciding vote. What it did not tell us is that the chairperson cast his vote before some members had voted. That violates Robert's Rule of Order as it relates to voting by the presiding officer, which governs conduct for public assemblies as well as most private assemblies. The presiding officer is only allowed to vote when the vote will make a difference in the decision such as breaking a tie. Since his vote was made before a tie existed, the vote should be invalid. In addition to that, since the presiding officer is presumed to hold a position of strength, a premature vote is presumed to impose an undue influence among the remaining voters. That procedure exists to help eliminate undue influence by a presiding officer during the vote.

The article also provided information relative to the TAC. That committee was formed to study the issues and develop recommendations. One of the speakers who is also a member of the committee indicated a charge to remove mandates such as water in perpetuity which the county cannot control. The article did not tell you that two of the five commissioners who voted to recommend approval of the changes were members of that committee. Although that fact is probably not fatal to their authority to vote, it should be considered since their influence deprived other members of the commission a reasonable information format and enough time to review and understand the proposed changes.

During the hearing, Commissioner Abbott expressed the difficulty he experienced in attempting to review such a lengthy document on a monitor which was the only medium provided. With the extensiveness of the changes, he found review impossible and obtained a hard copy, but time was not available to complete it. He noted the material in front of other commissioners and found several did not have a hard copy so he presumed their review was similarly compromised. He noted the softening of one change to allow consideration for the economic value of Historic Route 66. He indicated, although that was an appropriate suggestion and a step in the right direction, other natural, scenic and historic resources such as water quantity and quality also need to be reconsidered. Those assets are at least equally important to Mohave County's well being.

If the recommendation goes forward and is approved as is, it appears that it will significantly and negatively reduce our planning concerns and compromise other important assets. He indicated his hurried review suggests many issues proposed for removal from consideration deserve more scrutiny than was possible in the time available. He could not vote for something until he knew what the changes were and what the impact will be if adopted. Apparently, three other commissioners had similar feelings.

Abbott's concerns should have been acknowledged by all of the commissioners. We need to question: Was the no-change attitude that was prevalent during meetings and lack of responsiveness to written concern also present during the hearing? If so, why? Were the changes directed? What role, if any, did the TAC perform? Did the two commissioners who were members of the TAC sit for the purpose of making a decision or did they sit with their minds made up to advance the vote process only to give an impression of public involvement? What possible reason was there for not allowing more time so that all commissioners would have the opportunity to understand what they were being called upon to vote? All residents of Mohave County should appreciate commissioners and other officials who refuse to vote on issues until they have had opportunity to understand the issues and the consequence of their vote. Shame on those who deprive them of that privilege.

The Miner article sub-headline indicated time constraints were the reason why the public was left off the committee. That has also been expressed as the reason why more time was not allowed for all commissioner review. If we are wallowing in a system that demands inadequate participation and uniformed voting, we are in trouble. Fortunately, that does not appear to be the influence for this series of actions. If it was conducted pursuant to the existing General Plan and public notices, there was more than adequate time to properly complete a "minimal administrative burden" five-year review. The problem appears to have been caused when the county decided to not do what it publicly said it was going to do and to do what it said it was not going to do. Why?

The answer to that question may also answer the lead questions introducing this article. The desired outcome appears to have been decided before any TAC effort had begun. That would explain why no non-special-interest members of the public were involved. It would also explain why the agenda item for this topic was different than what the public was told when the effort began early this year.

We need an explanation and a return to the published purpose if this effort is to continue.

Lloyd Walsh