By Jesse Wood
Sept. 25, 2013. A week after Boone Town Council met in closed session for legal advice concerning “procedural deficiencies of board appointments,” Town Manager Greg Young sent a letter to County Manager Deron Geouque on Tuesday, notifying the Watauga County Board of Commissioners that two town board appointees from the extraterritorial jurisdiction were denied based on procedural errors.
On July 16, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners appointed Frank Bolick as a regular ETJ member on the town’s Planning Commission and Dale Greene as a regular ETJ member on the town’s Board of Adjustment.
Along with declining the appointments Bolick and Greene, Young noted in the letter that the “Boone Town Council intends to consider at its October meeting whether Jon Tate should remain on the Planning Commission – as he was inadvertently sworn in.”
Additionally, Young added that the council “does not intend” to swear in Greene or Bolick until the county comes into compliance with the town’s Unified Development Ordinance pertaining to ETJ appointment requirements.
In an email to the commissioners, Geouque noted that the UDO requires the commissioners to hold a public hearing for potential town board members if the town does not submit those applicants.
This particular conflict goes back at least two years. In Sept. 2011, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and the Boone Town Council held a joint meeting to discuss ETJ appointments after the county was miffed that the Boone Town Council months earlier revoked the commissioners’ authority to appoint ETJ residents to town boards.
After the joint meeting, the Boone Town Council agreed to amend the UDO once again to allow ETJ representatives to serve on the planning commission and board of adjustment while the commissioners agreed to consider all applicants received from the Town of Boone, according to meeting minutes from 2011.
In Young’s letter to Geouque on Tuesday, Young noted the “mutual understanding” gained from the joint meeting in Sept. 2011 that both governmental bodies “would comply” with appointment requirements of the UDO.
But in the email to commissioners after receiving Young’s letter, Geouque noted: “I have attached the County and Town minutes from the meeting Mr. Young is referencing. At the time of the meeting there was no discussion of requiring a public hearing if the County did not appoint the Town’s recommended applicants. The only mutual agreement was that the County would appoint members that reside in the ETJ and the Town agreed to restore appointing authority back to the County.”
One section of the UDO states, “The Town Council may itself solicit applications for the position, and it may transmit its two top choices for each position to the Board of Commissioners. If the Board of Commissioners is unwilling to appoint either of the two applicants submitted by the Town Council, it may appoint a person of its own choosing. However, before appointing a new person to the Planning Commission (or Board of Adjustment), the Watauga County Board of Commissioners must hold a public hearing on the selection.”
The council recently nominated Richard Woods and Jerry Butler for ETJ appointments on the Boone Board of Adjustment, and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint Woods on as a regular member of the board and Butler as an alternate member of the board on Aug. 6.
At that same meeting, the commissioners also appointed Jon Tate to the planning commission after receiving an application for his submission to either the planning commission or board of adjustment. No public hearing took place for the appointment of Tate either.
Based on his reading of the UDO language, Chair Nathan Miller said he didn’t believe a public hearing was required because the county didn’t deny any appointments submitted by the town.
“They didn’t give us anybody else,” Miller said. “So we appointed two other people [Bolick and Green] that applied.”
Geouque also noted in the email to commissioners that the UDO is “silent” as to the failure of the town to provide qualified appointments to the county.
The Town of Boone had a deadline earlier in the year to apply for town board appointments – including the planning commission and board of adjustment but extended the deadline until Sept. 17 in hopes of receiving more applications.
Boone Planning Director Bill Bailey said his office only had one applicant, so it didn’t submit names because it didn’t have the required two applicants.
Geouque also noted that based on conversations with the County Attorney Four Eggers “the opinion is that the Town does not have the statutory authority to require additional steps (public hearing) above and beyond the N.C. General Statutes.”
He noted that the county had four options:
- schedule a public hearing
- request a joint meeting to seek resolution to current deadlock
- sue the town
- combination of the above
Speaking on Wednesday morning, Council Member Rennie Brantz said that from speaking with the town attorney, the agreement reached between the town and county in 2011 included language in the ordinances calling for public hearings.
Brantz also noted that scheduling a public hearing for those denied appointments would go a long way in resolving this current squabble.
“I think it would,” Brantz said. “I think we ought to be able to find away to make appointments. It’s important for the planning commission and other boards that both the county and town have boards fully populated, so they can function. As long as we are squabbling over appointments it impedes the effectiveness of different boards. I would like to find a way to make that happen. So far it hasn’t completely broken down. It has slowed down very much. I would like to find a resolution.”
Chair Nathan Miller reiterated the importance of appointees from the ETJ.
“They don’t vote for town council, yet their property is controlled by the town,” Miller said. “Their only elected officials are county officials and it is our job to appoint ETJ members, so they have some what of a voice on regulations that control their property.”
Officials from both the county and town anticipate discussing the matter further at their October monthly meetings.