Com­mis­sion­ers' meet­ing heats up dur­ing nor­mal busi­ness

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Rachel Oswald

Dis­cus­sion be­came heated for a mo­ment be­tween Chair­man Aaron Varner and District 2 Com­mis­sioner Earnest Sim­mons at Tues­day’s Board of Com­mis­sion­ers meet­ing.

Dur­ing a run of the mill hear­ing on a zon­ing vari­ance ap­peal, Sim­mons and Varner both briefly lost their tem­pers over a dis­agree­ment on whether to ad­journ the board’s meet­ing to dis­cuss the ap­peal with a county at­tor­ney.

Af­ter some back and forth with the board over a re­quest by Ken and Sarah Por­to­car­rero to deny a board of zon­ing ap­peals grant of a vari­ance to their neigh­bor Mark Abram, that would al­low him to park his com­mer­cial truck on his pri­vate prop­erty, Varner sug­gested the board briefly re­cess to dis­cuss the vari­ance with their at­tor­ney Jenny Carter.

Sim­mons ob­jected to Varner’s sug­ges­tion, say­ing that he wanted to con­tinue ask­ing ques­tions of the Por­to­car­reros and Abram. Varner then in­ter­rupted Sim­mons mid-sen­tence by bang­ing his gavel down sharply and then stand­ing up abruptly, leav­ing the room, fol­lowed by Carter.

“What’s wrong with you,” Sim­mons yelled to Varner’s re­treat­ing back. “I don’t know what your prob­lem is.”

Varner and Carter re­turned to the meet­ing less than a minute later and the meet­ing re­sumed.

District 1 Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing made a mo­tion to over­turn the rul­ing of the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals be­cause he said Abram did not have the min­i­mum of 10 acres re­quired by the county’s zon­ing or­di­nance to al­low him to park a com­mer­cial truck on his prop­erty on Avalon Road in District 1.

Ewing’s mo­tion passed with District 3 Com­mis­sioner Es­ther Flem­ing and District 5 Com­mis­sioner Monty Laster vot­ing in sup­port. Sim­mons and District 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son voted in op­po­si­tion.

Af­ter the vote, Abram, con­fused by the vote, asked what he should do next. Varner an­swered that he would talk to him af­ter the meet­ing.

On Thurs­day, Sim­mons re­leased a state­ment re­gard­ing the in­ci­dent with Varner.

“I was not clear on the in­for­ma­tion that was pre­sented and as a com­mis­sioner I at­tempted to ask a ques­tion for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the is­sue. At that point a spir­ited dis­cus­sion be­tween Chair­man Varner and my­self took place. At the end of the dis­cus­sion most is­sues were re­solved to both our sat­is­fac­tion and the meet­ing moved on.

“I re­gret that things got heated be­tween the chair­man and my­self, but some­times in a po­lit­i­cal fo­rum, emo­tions get the best of us and things are said. I apol­o­gize for the out­bursts be­tween us and I pledge to con­tinue work­ing to help the cit­i­zens of New­ton County,” Sim­mons wrote.

Varner de­clined to give a com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

Since Sim­mons joined the BOC at the beginning of 2007 there have, on oc­ca­sion, been mo­ments of ten­sion be­tween him and other mem­bers of the board — al­though Tues­day night was the first time in at least two years that any mem­ber of the BOC pub­licly lost their tem­per with a fel­low board mem­ber.

Sarah Por­to­car­rero said she wasn’t happy with the board’s Tues­day de­ci­sion, even though she was the one to raise an ap­peal to the board of zon­ing ap­peals de­ci­sion in the first place. Por­to­car­rero said what she re­ally wanted was a le­gal as­sur­ance that Abram would erect a plant buf­fer be­tween his prop­erty and hers to block the site of the truck, as was sug­gested by the county ar­borist.

“The prob­lem we had was they had des­ig­nated an area for him to park that was in full view from Avalon Road, that we were afraid was go­ing to af­fect the re­sale value of our prop­erty,” Por­to­car­rero said. (Full dis­clo­sure: Por­to­car­rero is an oc­ca­sional colum­nist for The News.)

Ac­cord­ing to Por­to­car­rero, Varner, who lives on Hen­der­son Mill Road, is a neigh­bor of both hers and Abram and had signed a pe­ti­tion for Abram that said it was all right for him to park a truck on his prop­erty. Por­to­car­rero said Varner asked her to not file an ap­peal to the Abram vari­ance af­ter it was awarded in July.

“When I went up there to talk about fil­ing an ap­peal [Varner] in­ter­rupted my meet­ing and said this does not need to go be­fore the board,” Por­to­car­rero said.

Mar­ian Eisen­berg, the county’s plan­ning di­rec­tor, said she couldn’t re­call whether Varner par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ing she had with Por­to­car­rero when she was de­cid­ing whether to file an ap­peal to the Abram vari­ance in Au­gust.

“He may have spo­ken to her. I just re­ally don’t re­mem­ber that he had any true in­volve­ment,” Eisen­berg said. “I don’t think that Aaron [Varner] re­ally played much of a role at all. He just hap­pened to have been in the of­fice at the time that she came.”

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