Planning Commission reviews procedure for public hearings

The Hillsboro Planning & Development Commission continued the process of reviewing and updating its bylaws at its Nov. 29 meeting.

Much of the discussion centered on the process of conducting public hearings.

John W. Riggs, the city’s new consultant, encouraged the commission to include the appointment of a hearing officer into its bylaws. The officer, who would moderate the hearing, could be the commission chair or whomever the commission preferred.

Riggs suggested the bylaws give the commission freedom to change hearing officers when circumstances, such as a conflict of interest, demanded it.

Chairman Gaylord Goertzen reviewed the procedure the commission has used in past public hearings to see if changes were needed. Riggs said the procedure sounded adequate. Goertzen said the procedure had held in court when it was challenged several years ago.

Riggs encouraged the commission, in addition to keeping written minutes, to make an audio recording of each public hearing and archive it for at least one year. He cited an example in McPherson, where a recording verified that a developer had made promises that, later in the process, he had denied making. The written minutes had not included that detail.

Another bylaw matter involved electing a secretary each year. Members noted they had neglected to formally elect a secretary in February, as the bylaws require.

Rather than go through that formality after the fact, Riggs recommended the commission simply continue this year as it had and hold the next election in February 2002.

“You have to look forward, not backward,” he said.

The final item of discussion was about communication between the commission and the governing body, the city council.

By state statute, the commission is required to review the city’s comprehensive plan and then report to the council whether the plan still accurately reflects the direction the city is moving or whether the plan should be changed to reflect changing needs or developments.

Goertzen said the commission had been reviewing the Comprehensive Plan each year, but had not offered its findings to the council in a face-to-face report.

Riggs encouraged the commission to make such a report in the future because it keeps both bodies better in touch with the goals laid out in the Comprehensive Plan.

Riggs also said that, by law, the governing body should be asking for an opinion from the commission before approving significant capital-improvement projects. The governing body is not required to act according to the opinion, he said, but it is one more way to keep the public good, as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, at the forefront of decision-making.

On the subject of long-range planning, Riggs recommended the commission begin evaluating the results of Census 2000 and compare them with results from previous decennial census reports in an effort to note demographic trends.

He called population “the meat of comprehensive planning” because “physical facilities will follow social demand.”

The commission will begin that process at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Jan. 31.

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