Critics off mark in planning board attacks

To the Editor:

Back in the 1990s, I was privileged to serve several years on the Macon County Planning Board, six of those years as chairman. During that time I served with a good number of persons, some of whom had personal agendas but most of whom were caring people who only wanted to help maintain some of the characteristics which make Macon County such a great place to live.

It would be very surprising to any person who never served on an advisory board how much research, study and learning about other places and other ways, and attempting to adapt plans and regulations which serve well in other places to local problems, goes into any suggested ordinance which is presented to the commissioners. The best and most complete information which can be assembled concerning any potential project is sifted, sorted, studied, reviewed and digested by a group of dedicated board members before any suggestion is presented to commissioners. Examples of consequences arising around the subject under study are gathered from sources far and near.  Experts are consulted and questioned and the knowledge and experience of many people are considered.  And the board members spend their own money to serve.

When I was on the planning board, we were stopped in the middle of a project hoping to promote better, safer design for housing developments being constructed in the county – stopped by an organized group of realtors and developers who descended on a commissioner meeting protesting our actions, although no suggested ordinance had been completed. At the recommendation of the county manager at that time, the commissioners ordered that our fledgling plans be dropped. This was about the time the developers of Wildflower appeared at a commissioners meeting to tell us what wonderful advantages they could bring to Macon County if only we had no construction regulations or restriction on housing developments.

The rest of that story is history. And there are several homes built in this county to which no fire truck or emergency vehicle can be driven. A couple of those homes have already burned to the ground.

Serving on any voluntary advisory board is a thankless, sometimes frustrating undertaking. Contrary to recently published charges that planning board members wish to dictate to their fellow citizens, no planning board — nor any other advisory board — has that power. To paraphrase an old saying, an advisory board proposes actions, the county commissioners dispose of such actions, either accepting or discarding. The board on which I served was at least lucky enough not to be attacked in the public press by name and in such a personal and hurtful manner as has been endured by the present planning board members.

To disband the planning board, or to cripple the effectiveness of the members with term limits, can be likened to the situation of an ancient king who was riding into his castle one day when he saw one of his knights, wounded and bleeding, his armor dented and his horse falling with exhaustion. The knight throws himself from his dying horse and falls to his knees before his king.  “Oh, my king,” he cries.  “The battle is lost, your army destroyed upon the field, and only I am left to bring you the word that the enemy comes fast behind me, planning to storm your castle, kill you and your family, and lay waste your lands.” The king, in fear and anger, draws his sword and strikes off the head of the messenger who brought the terrible news before the king can learn the strength and position of the oncoming enemy, leaving himself no chance to protect himself and his people. How useless and foolish to kill the messenger.

One last well worn but apt cliché: to fail to plan is to plan to fail.

Sue Waldroop


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