A packed room of more than 40 people awaited the Morgan County Commission's reconsideration of Wayne Omps' appointment to the planning commission last Friday morning, August 10.
In the end, the Omps appointment stood, though the commissioners are drafting new county board appointment procedures.
Commissioners Tommy Swaim and Glen Stotler maintained that Omps' appointment was official at their Friday, July 27 meeting when they both signed an order approving the appointment.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson refused to sign the order naming Omps to the planning board that day.
There had been no prior notice of the appointment and no public discussion of it, Hutchinson said. The appointment papers were placed before her after citizens and reporters left the July 27 meeting for the lunch break.
Later that afternoon, Stotler and Swaim agreed to revisit the appointment on August 10.
Hutchinson felt Omps was too pro-development to be a good candidate for the county's planning commission.
Hutchinson defeated Omps by a wide margin for the county commission seat in last November's election. She said her concerns about this appointment were not personal.
Last Friday, Hutchinson said they needed to discuss county board appointments instead of making rush decisions.
Hutchinson said she understood there were eight applications for the vacant planning board seat.
"It's an extremely important position for our county," she said.
Hutchinson said she had been remiss in her assessment of county appointments and reappointments. At a recent tri-county summit, Jefferson County Commission president Frances Morgan made her see how important county boards are, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson asked when the decision had been made to select Omps for the post. Swaim said he asked for the order to be prepared.
Any commissioner can tell staff to prepare the order for an appointment to be approved, Stotler said.
"This is how we've always done it," said both Stotler and Swaim.
Stotler maintained that no one sneaked the appointment through. "We can start to change the process," he said.
It was unfair for the other seven people who were applicants, said one woman in the crowd.
Citizens who spoke at the meeting did not identify themselves and were not asked to.
Hutchinson asked why Planning Commission President Jack Soronen's recommendation of Susan Caperton had not been presented to the county commissioners.
Hutchinson was expecting the commission to interview Caperton.
Swaim said he was concerned that Caperton hadn't resided in the county long enough.
Stotler said Soronen has made different recommendations for the planning commission, some of which were approved and some of which weren't.
Stotler felt that if Caperton's name would have been on the appointment order, Hutchinson would have signed it without question.
Hutchinson said she would have been willing to interview Omps for the position.
Selection process changes
Hutchinson asked for more publicity about the county's volunteer board openings. She wanted applications to be date-stamped. She felt calls should be made to everyone who has expressed an interest when a position becomes available.
Hutchinson also wanted board appointments to be put on meeting agendas at a specific time for public discussion.
Board appointments are typically listed at the bottom of the agenda as an item for possible discussion at any time, but the planning commission appointment was not on the agenda for the July 27 meeting.
(APPOINTMENT continues on page 5)
The commissioners discussed publicly interviewing the top candidates for board seats.
Hutchinson suggested the board chairperson be present for the interviews and that they recommend who should fill the post. She also thought resumes from each candidate would be helpful.
Swaim noted that public ads had run five to six times asking for people to serve on county boards in his ten years as commissioner. Many newspaper articles mentioned the county was looking to fill various board seats. Vacancies just filled on the Fire Board and the Health Board had been open for more than a year.
Changes not retroactive
Stotler and Swaim agreed to Hutchinson's request for changes in the process of how board vacancies are filled. They would not allow the changes to be retroactive to include Omps' appointment.
Stotler said they've probably done 30 appointments in the past year. If they made the changes retroactive, where would it stop? Stotler asked.
"We haven't had people kicking down our doors wanting to serve," he said.
Soronen's reading of the state code was that once an appointment was made, there was no way to undo it.
"If someone elects to step off, that's a resignation, not removal," Soronen said.
Stotler said he would not ask Omps to step down.
Asked to step down
Resident Kris O'Brien asked Omps if he would be willing to withdraw or resign from the planning commission. Omps did not volunteer to step down.
David Schwartz asked the commission to reconsider the appointment and to vote on it, but no vote was taken.
Louise Spring said she had no problem withdrawing her name for reappointment to the Morgan County Health Board and starting the whole selection process over again, if needed. Her reappointment was approved the same day as Omps' appointment.
Omps thought the packed room showed that the opposition to his appointment was political. Twice he called for the audience to show some respect after Swaim and Stotler were either shouted down or booed.
"This is a circus," Omps said.
A woman who didn't identify herself replied, "This is democracy," and the room burst into applause.
Omps said his family-owned business sold two or three homes a year. He noted that he was not pro-zoning or anti-zoning. Omps said he was for Morgan County.
School board member Larry Omps said he and his brothers, Wayne Omps and David Omp's own Colonial Village Industries, Inc. and are not big developers.
"The big developers will be coming in later. You'll be glad you have someone like Wayne to stop them," Larry Omps said.
An unidentified supporter described Wayne Omps as a hard-working builder and businessman. She felt there was a personal vendetta against him.
But another woman repeated a feeling that others had voiced, "This is not about Wayne Omps. This is about the process," she said.
Portia Henry expressed her concerns about how we don't have jobs here and how people can't get homes. "We're bickering like children," she said.
Others raised issues such as increased development, new subdivisions possibly threatening water supplies, traffic and quality of life.
Delegate Daryl Cowles, who previously served on the planning board, said his appointment was put on the agenda and he was interviewed before the commission.
Cowles noted that it would have been a little daunting if he had been brought before a public meeting where many people were trying to determine his suitability for the job.
Cowles thought the selection process could use citizen input. He noted it was difficult to rescind an appointment. "Tread lightly," he cautioned.
Soronen noted that the planning commission is more of a technical and advisory committee than a political body.
Members should be average citizens who can look at issues objectively, have a good knowledge of the county and do not have a political agenda, Soronen said.
Soronen cautioned the commissioners about making board members who are up for reappointment go through a reseating process after they've already done so much.
Soronen felt the present group is a good cross-section of county residents.
Commissioner Swaim, who sits on the board, also defended the diversity of members. "It's a great planning commission," Swaim said.