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Board of Appeals Thoughts From Former Member

Article Date: 
17 September, 2010 - 06:00

Dear Editor,
Brad Richards' letter to the County Council, as printed in The Morgan County News on September 3 edition, voiced his concerns about the functioning of the Board of Appeals (BOA), and a recommendation for resolution.  As a past Board of Appeals member, I concur with Mr. Richards’ observations and comments.  He articulated my experience and perceptions better than I could have.  However, I’ll add my two cents worth.
The Board of Appeals is like a county Supreme Court—it can override the actions of the other two bodies—the Commission and the Council.  This implies that BOA members should have a level of knowledge, experience, and wisdom commensurate to correctly judge, and if necessary for State and County compliance, overturn Council and/or Commission decisions.  
As Mr. Richards says, and as I observed during my tenure, this is generally not the case.  It is difficult enough getting people to serve, let alone having the luxury of choosing from highly-qualified persons.  Speaking from my own experience, my tenure on the BOA was my first exposure to county government.  I was woefully unprepared and inexperienced.  I should not have been in that position.  Regretfully, I wasn’t alone.
I would like to suggest an alternative solution to Mr. Richard’s recommendation of replacing the BOA with a hearing officer.  No matter how well qualified a single person is, I believe that it is a violation of fundamental democratic and republican principle to place overriding power in the hands of one single individual.  It is just too easy to abuse, even unintentionally or unconsciously, the responsibilities of such a position.  Also, it is impossible for that one single individual to not bring personal biases and perceptions and experiences into his/her decisions.
I believe that positions with overriding authority and decision-making should be composed of multiple persons.  Multiple personalities have the effect of nulling out awry biases and inclinations.  Multiple persons bring a greater and broader wealth of knowledge and experience to a decision.  In my life experience I have seen that multiple persons make better decisions than do single individuals (crisis situations excepted, of course).
So I would make the following recommendation:  modify the BOA to comprise only three individuals, with perhaps two alternates.  Select these members from persons who have previously served on the County Council or the Planning Commission, or are professionally qualified.  A three person BOA would be much easier to fill than the present five-member BOA.  And, I believe it would not be difficult to find a few former Council and Commission members willing to serve on the BOA.
John A. Triplett, former BOA and Planning Commission