Penny-wise or Penny foolish?

I had mentally packed Penny Rich away in mothballs after she took the county commissioner job, figuring I’d have to find new material for drama. But she hasn’t been gone even a month when here she is turning up like a bad –

No, she’s heard all those jokes since grade school. Let me take a moment to grow up and start again.

Here’s what I know:

Del Snow addressed the Orange County commissioners at their Dec. 11 board meeting during the public comment period to urge commissioners to delay implementing the half-cent sales tax for transportation that Chapel Hill-Carrboro voters approved (and, hence, the county, as Chapel Hill-Carrboro voters outnumber voters in the rest of the county). She twice noted that she was chair of Chapel Hill’s planning board, and though she didn’t say she was speaking for the board, that was the implication. Her remarks were limited to why the planning board voted unanimously against the MPO 2040 plan, and she wanted the problems with the plan fixed before the county started collecting money to fund it. Town Council had voted to support the MPO 2040 plan, albeit grudgingly.

On Dec. 29, Rich sent a letter to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt calling for Snow’s resignation from the planning board. Rich said it was “highly unusual for the Planning Board chair of one governing body to come and speak in front of another governing body unless asked to do so by council.” Rich signed the letter as “Commissioner Penny Rich, Orange County Board of Commissioners,” making it an official government letter and thus a public matter.

Commissioners chair Barry Jacobs said Rich’s letter represents the feelings of one commissioner and that the commissioners have never discussed whether it was appropriate for a town advisory board member to speak at the commissioners meeting. Nor did he advise Snow, when she called him before the meeting to ask for more time as she was speaking for the board, to speak only as a private citizen.

Tallying up the wrongs on both sides, here’s my score:

Snow could have told all planning board members beforehand (instead of afterward) that she was going to speak on their behalf to see whether anyone raised a caution flag.

As the town and county have some “history” (think library money and landfill fees), Snow could have told the mayor her plans to speak in the role of advisory board member; he could have told her how that might muddy ongoing negotiations with county officials.

Rich could have called the mayor to ask him to talk to Snow, if he felt Snow had overstepped her bounds.

Rich could have spoken up at the commissioners’ meeting to say she thought Snow was inappropriate, or she could have talked to Snow privately later. But that wouldn’t have been as much fun as flamboyant outrage and a public demand for Snow’s head.

Methinks Rich is finding Hillsborough a little too quiet.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 7, 2013

    As a citizen, its surprising (reassuring?) that Del was the first to inform the county commissioners about inconsistencies between the MPO plan and Chapel Hill’s land use plan. Since the commissioners were about to levy new taxes for transportation, it seemed like a good thing for them to know.

    Del even mentioned that the Town Council was setting up a work group to addess the problems with the plan. Maybe the commissioners should ask to cooperate with the town’s planning – instead of cutting off the discussion..

    How about a two-pointer for Del?

  2. Many

     /  January 7, 2013

    I was at the meeting. I did not hear anything that should not have been said. Perhaps I am being naïve, but why would stating on topic opinions and ones credentials in an open forum be considered “overstepping ones bounds”? I invite people to read Ms. Snows comments and judge for themselves.

    The *important* question here is why in the world was this plan and tax allowed to move forward without the decision makers consulting their paid planning staff and citizen planning boards? Why is it that the information that Ms. Snow and others presented seemed to be a surprise to the commissioners?

  3. Diogenes

     /  January 7, 2013

    “Rich could have called the mayor …” or she could have run an ad on a bus!

  4. DOM

     /  January 7, 2013

    As a former member of a town advisory board, I believe Ms. Snow was WAY out of bounds to use her position that way. I would have felt betrayed having someone speak for me and the other members I worked with without getting a formal endorsement from everyone beforehand.

    This would be the perfect time to hear Amy Ryan’s thoughts on the subject since she is a planning board member and has also put herself up for Penny Rich’s vacant council seat.

    I would also be interested to hear how other planning board members feel about the issue.

  5. Many

     /  January 7, 2013

    DOM, You don’t say how you know who Ms. Snow was speaking for. Have you read Ms. Snow’s comments? Were you at the meeting? I suspect neither because she made it clear she was speaking as a private citizen.

    Aren’t you doing the same thing you accuse Ms. Snow of “as a former member of the town advisory board”?

    Did you get everyone’s on the town advisory boards approval to post your comment or is your post just another ironic troll?

  6. DOM

     /  January 7, 2013

    Yes, I agree – there are so ‘Many’ trolls out here, aren’t there?

  7. Many

     /  January 7, 2013

    OK. Got it. Thank you for the clarification.

  8. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 8, 2013

    Hi everyone, I’m on the Planning Board too and took part in the discussions we had about the MPO plan, which was sent from on high in the NCDOT and does not take into consideration any facts on the ground in Chapel Hill, like where our shopping centers are, downtown density or that we have far more pedestrians and cyclists than other N.C. towns the same size.

    However, the letter to Mayor Kleinschmidt from Penny Rich isn’t about the MPO plan. It instructs him to ask for Del Snow’s resignation from a citizen advisory board (perhaps a county commissioner ranks higher and can do that?), and it reveals Penny Rich not to have heard one single observation that the Planning Board unanimously agreed were issues that should modify the MPO plan.

    Somehow, the Carrboro advisory board member who addressed the commissioners escaped Ms. Rich’s notice, or perhaps she wrote a letter to Carrboro’s mayor asking for that person’s head as well and we just don’t know about it. Whatever the case, she signs her name as an Orange County Commissioner micromanaging a Chapel Hill citizen advisory board, but not paying any attention to the issues at hand: a NCDOT-issued plan that thwarts long-term Orange County and Chapel Hill goals.

  9. DOM

     /  January 13, 2013

    Why is it that the planning board has been voting against so many projects of late, even though all of the other advisory board are voting for?

    Could it be that the membership has been stacked to include only those who agree with Ms. Snow’s views?

    In my opinion the selection process for the planning board is too closed and limited to secure a more unbiased and broadminded group. Loading a board or committee with people who all think the same way eventually causes grave damage to the community.

    Just my two cents.

  10. Bonnie

     /  January 13, 2013

    The council appoints the board and their comments are based on the comprehensive plan and the new 2020 guidelines. The council can always override them.

    That said, where has the planning board voted “no” where you don’t agree? Their meetings are open to the public. Have you ever attended any of them?

    There are cases where the planning board has been placed in the uncomfortable position of having to vet developer claims, where benefits are exaggerated, and the size and scale goes way beyond the recommended density and infrastructureprescribed for the area. Isnt it their job to point this out?

  11. Many

     /  January 14, 2013

    The planning board is an advisory board. None of the votes are binding on anyone. IMO good leadership values the dissenting opinion regardless of the outcome. Attempts at suppression smack of a “group think” mentality and run counter to the whole purpose of an advisory board.

    Methinks Ms. Rich has ground her ax and in the process dulled it considerably.

    “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”. ~J.K. Galbraith

  12. DOM

     /  January 14, 2013

    ‘Group-think’ is an accurate way of explaining how the planning board votes on things.

  13. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 15, 2013

    Really, DOM, whoever you are, if you would just sit in on a few of our discussions you’d get a notion of the diversity of interests and thought processes there and would not have to revert to pre-processed accusations of “group-think.” You are also dismissing all the projects we have voted in favor of. Come by a planning board meeting sometime and introduce yourself ; we love to meet you