The Columbia County Commission voted Tuesday to accept a first reading of an ordinance that overhauls rules governing the county's planning commission but leaves residency requirements the same.
The commission agreed to force planning commissioners to resign if they formally file an intent card to run for elective office. They also voted to have rules changed to make planning commissioners serve at the pleasure of the county commissioner who appointed them or that commissioner's successor.
The county commission rejected a proposed change to allow district commissioners to appoint their representative at large and a proposal that would have planning commissioners appointed for a year with the option to be reappointed for up to three years.
At its Nov. 1 meeting, planning commissioners rejected all of the proposed changes to their board. On Tuesday, planning commission Chairwoman Deanne Hall asked the commission to do the same.
Hall, who is an Augusta Chronicle employee, said changing the residency requirement would be detrimental, as "each district is unique and it is imperative that the issues, concerns and desires of each district are consistently represented on the planning commission."
The commission decided not to alter the requirement that commissioners select a representative from their district. The commission chairman, who is elected at-large, would still be able to select his representative from anywhere in the county.
The county commission did agree by a 4-1 vote that planning commissioners should resign their post after they file their formal intent to run for elective office. The proposed change was directed at planning commissioner Brett McGuire, who remained on the board during the state Senate race to replace Jim Whitehead. He was defeated by Bill Jackson.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said builders who supported Jackson contacted him, saying they were afraid McGuire would be biased against their rezoning actions.
"I think there is an inherent conflict of interest," Cross said.
If approved on final reading, the measure also would apply to Hall, who has filed her intent to run to replace retiring District 3 commissioner Diane Ford.
Ford voted against the rule change, saying that rules, such as having an applicant for a rezoning disclose their campaign contributions, are in place to protect the public.
She also said her district would be at a disadvantage losing a planning commissioner like Hall, who has more than three years' experience.
Also approved by a 3-2 vote was an amendment to the rules stating that a planning commissioner serves at the pleasure of the county commissioner who made the appointment or that commissioner's successor. Commissioners Ron Thigpen and Ford opposed the measure.
Hall said such a change would be costly to taxpayers because of the training needed for new planning commissioners.
The proposed changes would go into effect if approved on a second and final reading of the ordinance, scheduled for the county commission's Dec. 4 meeting.
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