Joint planning commission routinely sees low attendance

Monday, October 13, 2008 | 7:53 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The county and city Planning and Zoning Commissions made history when they decided to work together to write a sub-area plan for the land around the site of the new Columbia public high school. But members' continued low attendance indicates the plan is being written by a handful of regular attendees.

Jeff Barrow, chairman of the city Planning and Zoning Commission and a sub-area plan committee member, told the Missourian in May that "the commission represents a collaborative effort ... for the future betterment of the city." The city and county have worked together on such projects only a few times, most recently with regional planning earlier this year.

The sub-area plan committee, which has 21 members, has met seven times since April. According to minutes from past meetings, only two or three county commissioners and an average of four or five city commissioners attend each meeting. Monday's work session only drew two city and one county commissioners. Officially the committee is not supposed to meet without a quorum, or simple majority. Under this guideline, the committee has had only one official meeting: that of April 5, when 13 of 21 members met.

Of the 11 county members, five attended on April 5, two on May 1, two on May 20, three on July 31, one on Sept. 16 and four on Sept. 30. Of the nine city members, eight attended on April 5, one attended on May 1, two on May 20,  six on July 31, four on Sept. 16 and five on Sept. 30.

Neither Barrow nor Skip Elkin, Boone County northern district commissioner, seem overly concerned by the poor attendance.

Barrow said he thinks the lack of county member attendance is because they don't live in the city and it's a hassle to get there. Additionally, Barrow said county members probably consider writing the sub-area plan to be more of a city issue, rather than a county one, because the land might eventually be annexed into the city.

Elkin said he doesn't have any concerns about the lack of attendance, considering the committee has continued to meet and work on the sub-area plan.

"It's hard to get people involved," Elkin said. "People have jobs and work and other personal things."

Barrow said members are expected to attend the regular county planning and zoning meetings, but there's no requirement or formal expectation for them to attend additional meetings, such as the sub-area plan meetings.

"Because there hasn't been a passionate interest in writing the sub-area plan, those in the core group of Pat (Smith), Carl (Freiling), David (Brodsky) and Helen (Anthony), in addition to Pat (Fowler) and myself, will be writing the plan, or more of an executive summary, including what the land will be used for and the policy," Barrow said.

Barrow expects attendance to increase once the plan is written because there will be "something for (members) to chew on."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he considers attendance on voluntary committees to be important. The Third Ward includes the new high school and the surrounding area.

"From my point of view, if I took on some responsibility, I would think it would be the honorable thing to minimize my absences," Skala said. "But I am disappointed to hear there hasn't been much of a turnout."

Skala served for six years on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission before he was elected to the City Council. He said he sat in on some of the initial committee meetings and tried to emphasize the importance of the commissioners' jobs. However, Skala said that serving may have turned out to be a greater commitment than the members realized.

"At this point, some of it, I suspect, is because the economic times are tough enough that people are looking to supplement their current jobs," Skala said. "But I don't know if that's the case here."

Skala said he's gently going to give some encouragement to the members so they can bring attendance up to meet the high level of quality the sub-area plan calls for.

The committee's next meeting will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 21. It will be the last meeting before the committee starts writing the sub-area plan, which will later be presented to the public and then to the City Council and the Boone County Commission for review and approval.

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