Santa Rosa Drafts First Advisory Committee Policy, Seeks To Fill Vacancies
After a recent controversy that led to the dismissal of Santa Rosa County’s entire zoning board, commissioners are now drafting a first-ever policy regarding citizen advisory panels and conducting an open search for applicants.
County staff are now working to refine the advisory committee policy before the commission’s board meeting Nov. 4.
Once approved, board Chairman Sam Parker says there will be official guidelines for application, appointment, and service; formalizing what has been, historically, an informal process.
“It was always just a commissioner would have someone they know or somebody that contacted them and make an appointment to a board,” Parker said. “And, traditionally, they would sit on that board and basically until something happened or a commissioner was unelected. And, there was never any defined term or anything like that.”
Length of term, at-large appointments, and provisions for removal are among the issues discussed for inclusion in the new policy. Another significant change is the limit of one committee per person.
“Up until recently with this changeover in personnel, we’ve had some citizens serving on two and three citizen advisory boards,” explained Parker. “One thing I want to do, and I heard the commissioners support yesterday, is that each citizen can only serve on one board.”
This review of citizen advisory committees was prompted by citizen complaints about comments by three zoning board members Scott Kemp, Jeremy Reeder and Jim Waite during their Oct. 10 meeting, just two days after the defeat of a one-cent local option sales tax for roads and other infrastructure.
The panel voted to approve a zoning request for a commercial development on heavily traveled Woodbine Road, after they sarcastically suggested voters must not think there is a traffic problem on the road, since they rejected the penny tax.
The comments resulted in removal of all ten members from the zoning board and any other advisory panels on which they served, which drew a little pushback from three commissioners, including Bob Cole.
“I just don’t think we made the right call if we’re pulling these people off all boards,” said Cole. “Now, we not only have to find replacements for planning and zoning, but a few other spots on a few other boards.”
One case in point was Parker’s own District 1 appointee Charles Loyed, who also served on the Marine Advisory Committee.
For his part, Parker said he felt a total overhaul was necessary, “It was an attempt to show the public that there’s complete impartiality. And, I think that sometimes a fresh start is, even though painful, a good thing.”
Even better, he says, is that this opens up opportunities for others interested in engaging with their county government.
“You know, I’m not trying to say anything derogatory about the men that were on the board,” began Parker. “But, it is good to let some other folks get involved. I mean we have some other citizens, clearly, that care about the community and I think that’s a positive thing.”
Citizens have responded. Less than 24 hours after posting an online application on the county’s website, www.santarosa.fl.us, over 20 submissions had come in.
“I’ve always felt like, you can’t complain about your community or your government or anything unless you’re willing to vote and to get involved,” said Pace realtor Christine Weddeke, who is applying to get on the zoning board.
She began attending commission meetings after the Santa Rosa County School Board announced plans to purchase and develop property near her home.
“I believe in growth; I’m not anti-growth,” said Weddeke, noting the rapid and seemingly unstoppable development in the county. “Pace is exploding. And, so I would like to be involved with it, so hopefully, I could be a positive influence for positive growth.”
Because of the explosive growth, Chairman Sam Parker says it’s imperative that the empaneling of new zoning board is done right.
“You know, I’ve only been on the board three years, but we’ve had a lot of things happen before that where I think, unfortunately, now we’re paying for that; seeing that the growth could have been managed a little better, Parker reflected.
“We know we’ve got growth and growth is a good thing, but it needs to be managed properly, so we need a good strong citizen-represented zoning board to give us good recommendations on that.”
The county is looking for ten individuals to serve on the zoning board, and seeks to fill nine total vacancies on all the other advisory committees.
Long-term, the county officials plan to solicit applications on an on-going basis. For now, though, they’re working a deadline of Oct. 31, so that applications can be reviewed and vetted for zoning board appointments by Nov. 14. Those chosen will have to gear up quickly to be ready for the next zoning board meeting, which is set for Nov. 21.