May 17, 2019 | Cle Elum | Central Washington Sentinel | Kittitas County ~
Contacting the BOCC regarding the recent Planning Commission actions of May 14th concerning the scheduled public hearing for public testimony and the Commission’s recommendations on the Kittitas County Comprehensive Plan 20-year update. Please accept this as a submission to be entered into the public record concerning the adoption of the Kittitas County Comprehensive Plan 20-year update.~
To: The Kittitas County Board of County Commissioners
CDS Director Dan Carlson AICP
From: The Central Washington Sentinel
Sirs and Madam,
I am contacting you in regard to the recent Planning Commission actions of May 14th concerning the scheduled public hearing for public testimony and the Commission’s recommendations on the Kittitas County Comprehensive Plan 20-year update. Please accept this as a submission to be entered into the public record concerning the adoption of the Kittitas County Comprehensive Plan 20-year update.
Since there seem to be no specific guiding statute on the duties and powers of Planning commissions in county code, I will state my understanding of the role and processes of the planning commissions as it was when I served for a 5 year period, both as a committee member and as chairman.
My understanding of the planning commission’s duties are:
- The planning commission serves to create a public record of all testimony surrounding a land use plan or action and scheduled updates as required by RCW 36.70A.
- The commission receives input from county staff, then solicits public testimony on the matter at hand
- Other testimony on the matter is at this time introduced by staff into the record the form of letters, emails, and other nonverbal testimony.
- The public testimony phase is opened, and that testimony is added to the record.
- The planning commission then stops public testimony and deliberates, asking for additional clarification from staff in necessary. Commission members may ask members of the public for clarification on their testimony as long as that person does not introduce new issues or broaden previous testimony submitted for the public record.
- The Commission Chair asks for a motion of passage to the Board of County Commissioners with a recommendation of approval, denial or no action. The commission may, if it wishes, include a list of findings (as opposed to findings of fact, which are a judicial matter) that may sum up the testimony they have received.
- After a motion is made, discussion among commission members ensues and the chair calls for a vote on the motion.
- The decision of the Planning commission along with their findings area passed on to the Board of County Commissioners for legislative action. The BOCC is in no way bound by the decisions of the Planning commission. At that point the Commission serves only to create and pass on to the BOCC the public testimony gathered pertinent to the issue at hand. This becomes the public record associated with the action.
Issues with the meeting held on May 14th
I’ll start off by saying that I am sympathetic with commission members, having run most of the public meetings during the Suncadia approval process. Having said that the commission’s process was very strange to me that evening.
For your reference, a good starting point is here at the MRSC site, http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Planning/Land-Use-Administration/Planning-Commission.aspx
Parenthetically, I could not find any Kittitas County Code governing the powers and duties of a Planning commission though it is entirely possible that I missed it. Any commission is required to be created by resolution. Other jurisdictions have created statute to establish and govern their planning commissions. Kittitas County Planning Commissions in the past have had a loose arrangement between the BOCC and the commission, and that relationship is not necessarily wrong, but as we grow you might want to adopt some statute that specifically sets out the duties and responsibilities of the Planning Commission. A short course in Robert’s Rules might be helpful.
To continue, a motion was made to pass the findings and the plan on to the BOCC with the commission’s recommendation to approve the plan. Commission members discussed the motion, had some loose conversations about what findings to pass on. A call for the vote produced a commission vote at 2 for and 2 against. No findings were codified as a part of the motion. The motion failed and the meeting was adjourned with no action on the part of the Planning Commission.
I believe this is an accurate description of the events.
The problem is that without a positive motion and vote from the planning commission the issue remains at the planning commission level and can not be forwarded to the BOCC for their action. The motion died, the process did not die and awaits further action.
Any information recorded by staff as a finding can not be forwarded, and the short list of objections presented by the Chairman of the Board cannot be included as testimony and presumably can not be used by the BOCC to defend or support their legislative decisions. The obvious answer is to call another planning Commission meeting to clear this up but that requires public notice and pushes the adoption timeline down the road two weeks. Planning staff has cautioned that we are rapidly closing in on the deadline for submission.
In short, all of the testimony, the public record and all of the work product of the citizen advisory groups are now stuck at the Planning Commission level awaiting passage to the BOCC. The BOCC has no public record on which to base their decisions.
The guiding RCWs (RCW 35.63) governing planning commissions generally refer to larger or regional bodies and assume that smaller jurisdictions will follow the same guidelines. In terms of specific guidance to commissions the content of RCW 35.63.100 is germane:
“Restrictions—Recommendations of commission—Hearings—Adoption of comprehensive plan—Certifying—Filing or recording.
The commission may recommend to its council or board the plan prepared by it as a whole, or may recommend parts of the plan by successive recommendations; the parts corresponding with geographic or political sections, division or subdivisions of the municipality, or with functional subdivisions of the subject matter of the plan, or in the case of counties, with suburban settlement or arterial highway area. It may also prepare and recommend any amendment or extension thereof or addition thereto.
Before the recommendation of the initial plan to the municipality the commission shall hold at least one public hearing thereon, giving notice of the time and place by one publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality and in the official gazette, if any, of the municipality.
The council may adopt by resolution or ordinance and the board may adopt by resolution the plan recommended to it by the commission, or any part of the plan, as the comprehensive plan.
A true copy of the resolution of the board adopting or embodying such plan or any part thereof or any amendment thereto shall be certified by the clerk of the board and filed with the county auditor. A like certified copy of any map or plat referred to or adopted by the county resolution shall likewise be filed with the county auditor. The auditor shall record the resolution and keep on file the map or plat.
The original resolution or ordinance of the council adopting or embodying such plan or any part thereof or any amendment thereto shall be certified by the clerk of the city and filed by him or her. The original of any map or plat referred to or adopted by the resolution or ordinance of the council shall likewise be certified by the clerk of the city and filed by him or her. The clerk shall keep on file the resolution or ordinance and map or plat.”
The contents of 35.63.100 assume action on the part of a planning commission. The issue here is that the Planning Commission could not reach agreement and took no action. No action is not an action. Properly they should have passed on their findings to the BOCC with a motion of no recommendation either way.
At some level the appearance of fairness doctrine should be considered. From the MRSC site:
The following are not considered to be quasi-judicial actions, and the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine does not apply:
- Legislative or policy-making decisions, such as the adoption or amendment of comprehensive plans or zoning decisions of area-wide significance (RCW 42.36.010).
It is clear that you are not bound by the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine, so the process whereby the Planning Commission passes on collected testimony and findings must be considered a strict procedural issue. In this case I believe you have no clear process. In essence, the lack of a positive motion to forward the public record to you leaves you with no public record on which to make your decision. It remains at the planning commission level and properly should remain there until it is passed on to you by a process recognized in statute.
It should not be news to you or your attorneys that most of the suits Kittitas County has endured in the past have been based on either questions of process or the inability of Kittitas County to create a valid record of their findings.
In terms of transparency and process I believe you have no other path than to reconvene the Planning Commission for their positive action. If that takes a few weeks for public notification I am sure that the State will understand, and though the threatened grant losses that staff voiced may be present I am sure that they will not come to pass. A few weeks is nothing compared to the 5 years that this process has transpired.
This ultimately is a question of doing what is right as opposed to doing what you can get away with. Process is important to the people and should be observed and preserved. You really should not break the trust that the citizens and the staff who have worked so hard on this update have placed in you. And you should never place yourself in a position of being challenged for process.
Bruce Coe for
The Central Washington Sentinel