Forsyth County’s planning board voted down a proposal that would have required corporations to provide the names of those involved when submitting a rezoning application.
Board member Joe Moses, who raised the idea, felt the affidavit would assist the panel in determining the potential for a conflict of interest, as well as increase transparency in the process for the public.
Moses was the lone member to vote in favor Tuesday night to recommend the proposal to the county commission, which has the ability to initiate changes to local code.
The other four members weren’t swayed, with Alan Neal stating that the burden to staff wouldn’t net enough benefit.
Neal said the applicant for a rezoning can be anyone, and the disclosure wouldn’t include the landowner, real estate agent or several others possibly involved in the process.
“The responsibility’s on us to act ethically there,” he said, referring to each member’s duty to determine if they have a conflict of interest.
The bulk of the board’s discussion on the agenda item, however, centered on a Nov. 5 letter from county commissioners.
They unanimously approved sending a letter to their appointed planning board member requesting they not use the assistance of legal staff or county employees in drafting new concepts before getting preliminary approval.
Commissioners expressed concern about spending tax dollars for an idea that may not gain any traction or could detract time from another issue.
It didn’t mention any specific instance, but the topic came up at the Oct. 22 work session, just one week after the planning board authorized work on the rezoning affidavit proposal.
Planning department director Tom Brown said he wasn’t present at that county commission meeting and didn’t know the topic would be discussed.
However, in conversations with commissioners afterward, he felt they had envisioned something “more elaborate” for the proposal than what the planning board expected.
“I was very concerned as well that there was a perception that [the county attorney’s] office and my office were spending significant amounts of time on the planning commission while we were ignoring the board of commissioners, and that is not accurate,” he said.
Regardless, the planning board members felt they needed to be clearer on what they authorize in future motions. Some felt they’d approved no county attorney involvement in October, while others believed legal staff would offer minimal input for the proposal.
What came back Tuesday was a draft modification to the county code, about two sentences added in red ink.
After the meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said preliminary figures showed that a little more than an hour would be billed for the work, which included drafting, phone calls with Brown and Moses and circulation of the products.
Jarrard charges $175 per hour, so the cost of preparing the draft would likely be a little more than that.
As of Thursday afternoon, he was unable to tabulate requests for either the total planning board expenses for the year to date or the estimated cost to assist with drafting the letter.
Moses had questioned the difference in time to draft the code proposal versus the letter, which he called a “diversion” to draw attention from the rezoning affidavit proposal.
He also contended that sending an idea to the county commission for preliminary approval negated the intent of code, which allows the planning board to formulate concepts for recommendation that elected officials can vote for if they see fit.
Board member Craig Nolen disagreed with that interpretation.
“They’re not saying don’t do it,” Nolen said. “They’re saying don’t direct staff and the attorney.”