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Town and County Officials Clash Over Planning Board Chair’s Role

By WCHL News Posted January 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm
CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich’s written request that Chapel Hill Planning Board Chair Del Snow resign continues to generate local discussion and debate. The letter was penned to town mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

According to her strongly worded letter, what prompted Commissioner Rich to write the mayor to ask Chapel Hill council members to ask Snow to resign as the town’s Planning Board Chair, were the comments she made during a December 11 Orange County Board meeting.

To quote from Rich’s letter:

“Del Snow, was the third speaker and identified herself as the chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Board. Ms. Snow reported that the planning board is pro-transit but did not support the MPO’s [Metropolitan Planning Organization] long-term transit plan.”

That’s how the meat of the letter begins. Notice how the letter references the way Snow initially identified herself. Rich goes on to say:

“Ms. Snow repeated that she is the chair of the Planning Board a number of times and never stated that she was speaking as an Orange County citizen… It is my understanding that neither you nor council gave Ms. Snow instructions to represent the town on this matter.”

Del Snow sees it differently.

“I wasn’t representing the town and I didn’t make any comments that would lead anyone to believe I was representing the town, that I was representing the planning board and that’s all I referred to. And one of the descriptions of the way the planning board works, right on the town website, says the planning board has been granted the power to act independently of the town council in most instances. So, I don’t agree.”

When asked if she thought her actions constituted an over reach of power, Snow replied, “Well, seeing as it says we are granted the power to act independently, I would say no.”

However, after Rich argued for council members to request a resignation, she closes out with these words:

“Ms. Snow’s interests are in conflict with the town and the citizens of Chapel Hill and I don’t see how she can vote on issues to move the 2020 Comprehensive plan forward given her stated positions.”

Snow responded:

“We were very much pro a transit plan, we just wanted this one to be tweaked, that’s all.”

She says she has no plans to resign.

“No one has asked me to. Penny Rich didn’t ask me to, as far as I know, she asked Mark to ask me to.”

And that isn’t going to happen. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says he met with Snow late this week, adding that nothing is gained by having her step-down from the planning board or be silenced in any way.

So how does Del Snow make sense of all this? Her simple answer is, she can’t.

“We never had any personal discussions where we had any disagreements. I think, you know, when I’ve spoken to the council and she has a different point of view, we are respectful of each other, as it should be, you know, if we’re both going to act professionally. So, in all honesty, this really shocked me. I had no idea there was any problem.”

For her part, Penny Rich says she’s 100 percent confident her letter was, and is, appropriate.

You can read the full text of both letters below.

From Penny Rich
December 29, 2012

Mayor Kleinschmidt,

At the Orange County Board of County Commissioner meeting on December 11, 2012, Items 6, 6a, and 6b on the agenda referred to the Transit Implementation Resolutions (http://www.co.orange.nc.us/occlerks/121211.pdf). As you know, the citizens of Orange County voted in favor of the ½ cent transit sales tax that appeared on the November 2012 ballot.

Ten people signed up to speak at the public hearing portion of the agenda item.

Del Snow, was the third speaker and identified herself as the chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Board. Ms. Snow reported that the planning board is pro-transit but did not support the MPO’s long-term transit plan. She told the BOCC that the planning board unanimously voted against the plan, but did not share any details about the conversations regarding the vote. She talked about the data, growth numbers, small area plans and the 2020 Comprehensive plan.  Ms. Snow shared opinion after opinion from the planning board, all against the transit plan and the implementation of the ½ cent tax. Ms. Snow repeated that she is the chair of the Planning Board a number of times and never stated that she was speaking as an Orange County citizen.

In my opinion this 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. It is my understanding that neither you nor council gave Ms. Snow instructions to represent the town on this matter.

In light of this over-reach of power and the pending law suit by Ms. Snow against the Town of Chapel Hill, I think it is appropriate that council ask her to resign her position on the Planning Board. Ms. Snow’s interests are in conflict with the town and the citizens of Chapel Hill and I don’t see how she can vote on issues to move the 2020 Comprehensive plan forward given her stated positions.

Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

Penny Rich

***

From Del Snow:
Mayor Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill Council Members,

It has come to my attention that you received a letter from County Commissioner Rich regarding my comments at the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting on December 11, 2012. My remarks were entirely appropriate, germane and true.

Ms. Rich writes that I “did not share any details about the conversations regarding the vote.” and then goes on to say, ” Ms. Snow shared opinion after opinion from the planning board.” Ms. Rich’s assertions contradict themselves and are simply not accurate.  I have attached the speech that I gave relaying the Planning Board recommendations and reasoning on the MPO 2040 Transportation Plan pertinent to the Commissioners’ discussion so that you can make your own assessment.  I have also attached the recommendations that you received from the Planning Board.

Part of the process in making the complex decisions that elected boards arrive at is to invite advice, dialogue, and information.  I do not think Ms. Rich wants to be seen as intending to deny anyone’s right to participate, yet she criticizes my input into the public process.  Her analysis of what she deems inappropriate and an “over-reach of power” is just plain wrong.

The Planning Board is a public body that holds open public meetings.  Our first charge is “to acquire and maintain in current form such basic information and materials on the physical growth and development of the Town and its environs as are necessary for an understanding of past trends, present conditions, and forces at work to cause changes in these conditions.”  Additionally, our charge clearly states “The Planning Board has been granted the power to act independently of the Town Council in most instances but on occasion serves in an advisory capacity to the Council.”

I am proud of the Planning Board for the thoroughness of the job that we do for Chapel Hill.  Our discussion on the MPO 2040 recommendations spanned two meetings and we were fortunate to have Planning Board member Brewer as our note-taker.  It was Ms. Brewer  who drafted our initial report.  Modifications were made by the entire board on October 16th and were adopted unanimously 8-0 (both Andrea Rohrbacher and Neal Bench were absent).  One of our Planning Board functions is “to develop and recommend principles and policies for guiding action in the development of the Town”. When the County Commission took up a transit subject which our Board had debated, and the Council had received, discussed and acted upon, I thought it pertinent to share them with the Commission. They, too, include representatives elected by Chapel Hill.  I am certain that the Commission can appreciate the difference between an affirmative vote made by the Town Council and recommendations of an Advisory Board, and I did not detect anyone on the Commission who was unhappy or thought it inappropriate to receive them.  Quite to the contrary, Commissioner Jacobs told me that he looked forward to hearing the Planning Board remarks when I contacted him regarding extra speaking time.

While Commissioner Rich may not agree with the unanimous recommendations made by the Planning Board, a disagreement on policy does not disqualify me from serving my Town.  Quite to the contrary, wise decisions are  built on the diversity of opinions that inform them and provide the basis for the betterment of our Town.

As to Charterwood, that is a separate matter that is irrelevant to this discussion. Certainly, people who sue based on a dispute with the town do not give up the right to serve the town.

I am choosing to submit this email to you publicly to clear the air and set the record straight.  I would be happy to discuss the matter with any Council member who has a interest in further information.

As always, I will continue to deliver to you informed and thoughtful advice to the best of my ability.

Thank you-
Del Snow
Chair-Chapel Hill Planning Board

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