Before the advent of Mayor Baldwin and her pro-developer allies on City Council, it was almost unheard-of for Council to dismiss members of the Planning Commission before their terms were up.
Since Baldwin & Co. took over, however, such dismissals have gotten to be all too common. Who’s getting dismissed? Anyone not employed by the development industry or beholden to the Baldwin bloc on Council.
The latest victim on the chopping block is actually the Chair of PC, Edie Jeffreys. Jeffreys has served two 2-year terms, a total of 4 years, and is eligible for reappointment to a third term. The limit is 6 years, after which you must step down.
Jeffreys was elected Chair by her fellow PC members. She is widely respected for her fairness to developers and to citizens who appear at the Commission to oppose or support a developer’s project (usually it’s a rezoning application).
Thus, Jeffreys’ reappointment should have been automatic, and for many years and many past Councils, it would have been.
But not with Baldwin in charge: At the May 4 Council meeting, Baldwin nominated someone else to replace Jeffreys.
Baldwin has done this twice before with PC appointments since taking office a few months ago. Both times, the Council voted in favor of Baldwin’s choice and against the reappointment of, first, David Novak, and then Bob Geary.
Novak and Geary had served just one 2-year term and had asked to be reappointed, as has Jeffreys.
So far, only Councilman David Cox supported Novak and Geary. He nominated Jeffreys for re-appointment, and is once again likely to be out-voted 7-1 by the Baldwin bloc when the decision is made on Tuesday — tomorrow.
So what difference does it make who’s on the Planning Commission? After all, it’s just an advisory body, and City Council makes all the final decisions.
True, but there’s a big difference if, when applications are heard at PC, ordinary folks who show up to offer their opinions have a sympathetic ear (or ears) to listen.
The point is, the PC creates the record on which the Council acts. If it only listens to the applicants — the developers and their lawyers — Council gets a one-sided record, and that’s not good.
Which is why citizen-members are needed at the table to listen along with the development-industry members.
Citizen-members, if we can call them that, come to the PC with backgrounds in community and neighborhood leadership. They balance community interests and developers’ interests and look for outcomes that serve both.
Not that developer-industry members can’t look for such balance as well – if they’re so inclined.
On PC, Experience Counts, Because It Helps!
Beyond differences in background, the plain fact is that PC members have a complicated job of judging whether an application is “consistent with” the Raleigh Comprehensive Plan or not. The Comp Plan has hundreds of policy directives that may or may not apply to a given case. Often, the decision is whether a policy should apply, or be set aside in favor of a different policy (or policies) that point either to approval of the application or, in a few instances, disapproval.
This balancing act requires, first, a thorough grounding in the Comprehensive Plan, which takes time. It also requires practice at applying the Comp Plan, which takes a lot of time. Most people who’ve served on PC previously would agree, we think, that it takes that first 2-year term to warm to the task. You learn from other members who are in their second or third terms and have more experience. Learn by listening, in other words.
But if members are tossed off after a single term for political reasons, there won’t be any experienced members to listen to. Or, worse, all the experience will be on the side of rubber-stamping developers’ applications and ignoring community concerns.
That’s what happened to Novak and Geary. They came out of CAC backgrounds, were appointed to PC by a prior Council that was far more neighborhood-oriented, and thus were persona non grata to Baldwin’s crew.
Jeffreys, too, has a background as a citizen activist who advocates for strong community planning. But that’s not what Baldwin’s Council wants, as their decision to dismantle the CACs showed all too clearly. They want developers to have free rein. And if citizens object, they’d like them to go away.