Mod­ify it through com­pro­mise

The Covington News - - OPINION -

About the time of the Mans­field pub­lic hear­ing the chair­man came by to see me. He had heard the strong con­cerns ex­pressed by the pub­lic re­gard­ing the 2050 Plan Base­line Or­di­nance, and I think sin­cerely re­al­ized that those con­cerns had to be ad­dressed. His idea at the time was to pick a small group of peo­ple who would rep­re­sent the po­si­tion of the landown­ers in eastern New­ton County and a group who were in fa­vor of the plan, lock them in a room and let them come up with a com­pro­mise po­si­tion which pre­serve the ba­sics of the plan while mak­ing it more palat­able to the large num­ber of cit­i­zens who op­posed the Plan on the is­sue of prop­erty rights.

At the same time at least three of the com­mis­sion­ers told the crowds at the pub­lic hear­ings that the 10/20 acre min­i­mum lot was a dead is­sue and would be changed. This was even com­mu­ni­cated by the fa­cil­i­ta­tor at the pub­lic hear­ings. Yet in the meet­ings that fol­lowed, the min­i­mum lot sizes never changed. De­spite as­sur­ances that those min­i­mums were off the ta­ble, the plan kept be­ing ex­plained and sold with ex­actly the same core pro­vi­sions.

As the plans for the cit­i­zen panel pro­gressed it changed from a group of eight with four from the pro­po­nents of the plan as drafted and four from the op­po­si­tion to the plan as drafted who would en­gage in a thor­ough re­view and de­bate of the is­sues to a cit­i­zens panel cho­sen ad hoc by eight dif­fer­ent selec­tors with no men­tion of par­ity. How­ever, the as­sur­ance was made by the chair­man that the group of cit­i­zens who had con­cerns about the prop­erty rights is­sue would be rep­re­sented by a place at the ta­ble.

Per­haps the method for se­lec­tion is to blame, but now that the se­lec­tions are be­ing an­nounced it has be­come ev­i­dent that not one mem­ber of the panel has been cho­sen to rep­re­sent the views of the cit­i­zens who have ex­pressed con­cern about the gen­eral philo­soph­i­cal is­sues in- volved in the plan. In other words, while the Smart Growth fac­tion, the Cen­ter fac­tion, the com­pact com­mu­ni­ties fac­tion and the util­ity in­dus­try fac­tion will have a ma­jor­ity po­si­tion on the panel, not one person who has ex­pressed con­cern with any of tenets of the plan will even have a seat at the ta­ble.

I be­lieve that the larger com­mu­nity of peo­ple in the eastern side of New­ton County will feel be­trayed by the com­mis­sion in the for­ma­tion of this panel. There are many peo­ple who could have been cho­sen which would have soothed the ire of peo­ple who feel most threat­ened by this plan. Jimmy Alexan­der, Judge Gree­ley El­lis, Freddy Greer, Pete Spears, Jerry Bouch­illon or Buddy Mor­gan would have brought an un­der­stand­ing of the con­cerns of the cit­i­zens of who live in un­in­cor­po­rated New­ton County. Any of them could have ar­tic­u­lated the prob­lems and fears which the land own­ers have with the plan.

While I have ar­gued strongly that we should not aban­don the plan but should at­tempt to mod­ify it through com­pro­mise, that po­si­tion does not run deep in the eastern side of New­ton County. Those peo­ple have roots in the land and the plan rep­re­sents a con­fis­ca­tory tak­ing of their rights to en­joy that land. Yet the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers has cho­sen to ab­so­lutely ig­nore the po­si­tion of that large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion by deny­ing them even one seat at the ta­ble which will make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the board on ac­tion on the plan.

How can you hope to bring those peo­ple into the dis­cus­sion much less a con­sen­sus on the plan when they don’t even have the op­por­tu­nity to de­bate it?

The suc­cess of any cit­i­zens panel lies in the ac­cep­tance of it by the com­mu­nity as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire com­mu­nity. The struc­ture and mem­ber­ship of this com­mit­tee clearly does not meet this test.

If all you wanted was a rub­ber stamp of the 2050 plan as drafted to lend you po­lit­i­cal cover to pass it, you still have only got­ten half the loaf. It ap­pears you will get your rub­ber stamp, but it will not pro­vide you with the po­lit­i­cal cover you are so des­per­ately seek­ing.

Philip A. John­son is a na­tive of New­ton County and has prac­ticed law lo­cally for 40 years.

PHILIP JOHN­SON GUEST COLUM­NIST

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