I was very concerned when one of my constituents felt he was denied an ability to ask questions at our Planning and Zoning hearing on Orchard Hills Villas. I disagreed with Dr. Erickson on many parts of this issue but it is vital that he receive fair treatment. After getting an explanation of the situation, I feel that the process was fair. Here is a note from City Attorney Terry Adkins.
During last night’s public hearing on Orchard Hills, Mr. Erickson indicated he was not able to ask questions of staff when the matter came before the Planning and Zoning Commission as part of a public meeting. He indicated that restriction came at the suggestion of Assistant City Attorney Pat Alfredson. Several of you thought that was unusual and wondered aloud why such a restriction was imposed. Indeed, upon being asked, I agreed that it was unusual, but stated Pat must have had a good reason to give that advice.
I was right. She did.
According to Pat, things were getting pretty heated at the CPZC public hearing. There were shouts and sarcastic statements from the audience while people were speaking to the Commission. Then, Mr. Erickson tells the Commission he has ten questions to ask of staff concerning staff recommendations. He wanted staff to respond to each question and then he wanted to be able to rebut each of the staff’s answers to those questions. With that, he turned his back to the Commission and began asking his questions of Brent Svenby. Pat indicated it was obvious Brent was not prepared to give definitive answers to the questions as they were being thrown his way out of the blue. Pat said it appeared to her that the speaker was cross examining Brent.
Recalling a previous discussion with Pat about the need to maintain decorum, civility and an orderly proceeding, the CPZC chair intervened and indicated this was a hearing before the Commission; not a debate with staff. He indicated the speaker should address his questions to the Chair and the Chair would then determine whether staff was prepared to give an immediate answer or would need time to prepare responses to be provided at a later date. That intervention worked and the Commission regained control over the hearing. Pat was pleased by the Chair’s decision and supported it.
In the vast majority of cases, speakers ask questions of staff and staff attempt to answer those questions at the time they are asked. This happens regularly at CPZC and Council hearings. This, however, was a very unusual situation where a speaker attempted to cross examine staff and ignore the Commission members. Pat concluded the Commission needed to reassert its control over its hearing and that is why she has suggested the Chair require questions be posed to the Commission rather than staff members so as to maintain proper decorum.
I agree with this legal advice in such unusual situations and support Pat’s actions.
By the way, following the CPZC hearing, Mr. Erickson did submit his ten questions, and a few more, to Planning Staff and received written answers to all of the questions.