At the risk of kicking over the momentarily quiet hornet’s nest called Magnolia Trace, something about the process has been bugging me.
No, not the nonsense about the development company making campaign contributions to state politicians, which theoretically could have resulted in someone holding a meeting – as if it takes any effort to get a politician to hold a meeting.
What’s been bothering me is this: Most things commissioners consider go through their committee system – but the Magnolia Trace proposal didn’t. Why not?
Here’s how government meetings in the county work. The school board meets twice a month, and its sessions often run pretty long because all of their business takes place during those sessions.
The two cities each meet once per month. They hold work sessions to start those meetings, and then segue into their formal meeting.
The County Commission operates differently. They hold two fairly quick meetings twice per month where items are voted up or down, often with little discussion.
It’s not for lack of deliberation, however; by the time items reach the full semi-monthly meeting, most of the discussions already have taken place during committee sessions (which also are open to the public, but typically attended only by a handful of people).
Commissioners in those sessions decide how items are handled. If all agree, the item is placed on the “consent” agenda for approval as a group.
If they disagree, or if a commissioner requests it, an item can be placed on the agenda to be voted on individually after further discussion or explanation.
So, back in June 2010 at the regular county commission meeting, commissioners approved a seemingly innocuous resolution favoring “affordable housing.” That resolution, later used in the Magnolia Trace application, never went through the committee system. Instead, County Attorney Doug Batchelor summoned Chairman Ron Cross and Commissioner Trey Allen to his office to hear a request from the developer. (If a third commissioner had been present, as they are at committee meetings, the law would have required public notice and access.)
Batchelor then introduced the resolution at the subsequent commission meeting. Commissioners who were present voted unanimously for it, without discussion.
Not every item of business goes through the committee system. The ones that don’t are considered, well, innocuous – things like employee back-patting and county wildflower month declarations. And, in this case, it included a resolution that just didn’t seem that meaningful at the time.
Perhaps if any good could come from the Magnolia Trace debacle, it will be that commissioners insist everything go through a committee. And that they ask more questions next time someone wants a “resolution.”
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/