Planning commission changes its operations

ESCANABA — The Delta County Planning Commission approved multiple changes to its bylaws and county ordinance language Monday. The changes are part of the planning commission’s work towards updating the county’s master plan.

In a special meeting held last week, members of the planning commission agreed to recommend changes to the commission’s bylaws and ordinance language. Earlier in November, County Administrator Philip Strom provided commissioners with documents they could use as examples for these updates; during last week’s meeting, proposed changes to the documents which commissioners had sent to Strom were discussed.

At the planning commission’s Dec. 3 meeting, Strom presented commissioners with updated versions of these documents incorporating the changes they agreed on last week. Early in this meeting, commissioners spoke about proposed changes to the section of the county ordinance dealing with the planning commission.

During this part of the meeting, Commissioner John Denholm voiced his concerns regarding ordinance language focusing on the removal of commissioners. The language in question stated that failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest constituted malfeasance, and Denholm felt the reference to “potential” conflicts of interest was overly vague in this context.

“If it’s not a conflict, it’s not a conflict; if it is, it is,” he said, adding he would prefer it if this language was changed to “failure to disclose a conflict.”

Strom noted that, in his opinion, the goal of this language was to motivate commissioners to address any situations in which a conflict of interest could arise.

“I would believe that it is in there to encourage members — even if they don’t think they have a conflict — to make that disclosure,” he said.

Commissioner Christine Williams said she understood Denholm’s issues with this section of the document.

“I think the placement of that word in that particular statement is a little odd,” she said. Ultimately, the commission agreed to remove the word “potential” in this section.

Ordinance language requiring the commission to prepare a capital budget was also replaced with language requiring it to review this budget, which had been suggested during last week’s meeting.

The other changes recommended for the ordinance primarily dealt with grammatical and stylistic errors. A motion to approve the updated ordinance language with these changes for recommendation to the Delta County Board of Commissioners was approved unanimously by the planning commission.

Later in the meeting, commissioners spoke about proposed changes to the commission’s bylaws. As was previously suggested by the commission, Strom said he had been able to remove a reference to public hearings from a section of the bylaws dealing with public comments and develop a new section focusing on public hearings.

“We struck ‘during a public hearing,’ and we broke that out in more detail below,” he said.

The topic of term limits for officer positions was also discussed at this point in the meeting. Strom said that the commission could either establish term limits or include a statement of recognition regarding a rotation system for officer positions in its bylaws.

Denholm noted that a third option would be to leave this section of the bylaws alone.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

Williams disagreed with Denholm’s view on this, pointing out that it can be difficult for some boards to commit to a rotation system without having a statement in place.

“I think it would be good to have a statement,” she said. The commission agreed to add a statement regarding the benefits of rotating officer positions to the bylaws.

As had been suggested by the planning commission last week, a conflict of interest statement in the bylaws was almost completely removed. This was replaced with a new conflict of interest section guided by Michigan state law.

A motion to accept the updated planning commission bylaws with these changes and other small adjustments was approved unanimously.

Along with these documents, the planning commission reviewed a request for qualifications (RFQ) for master plan development which CUPPAD prepared. At their previous meeting, commissioners looked over a request for proposal (RFP) for this work; based on commissioner feedback, the RFP was converted into a RFQ.

Save for some minor tweaks, the commission had few changes to make on this document.

“I think you did a pretty good job,” Commissioner Randy Scott said. A motion to accept the RFQ with the suggested changes as a recommendation to the Delta County Board of Commissioners was approved unanimously.

Strom thanked the planning commission for its work on updating these documents.

“This is not the most exciting work to be done — the most exciting work, hopefully, will be done during the master planning process — but this is a good step,” he said.

In other business, members of the planning commission discussed what will happen now that they have voted to move forward with the proposed changes. According to Strom, the ordinance language and the RFQ will go before the Delta County Board of Commissioners for approval later this month. (Updates to the commission’s bylaws do not require approval from the board.)

If the RFQ is approved by the Delta County Board of Commissioners, it will be released to the public. Strom said the deadline for responses to this RFQ will be Feb. 1, 2019.

“Ideally, at the Feb. 4 (planning commission) meeting, you will deliberate and have a recommendation prepared for the commissioners,” he said.

The commission will aim to meet before then in order to establish a system for evaluating RFQ responses.

“On Jan. 7, maybe we can come to the table and everybody can have some ideas of what you want to prioritize when evaluating these qualifications, and then we can put something together after that or at that time to serve as our formal document for evaluation,” Strom said.