‘Ad’ for Appointments Fails to Clear Confusion

BLYTHEWOOD – After considerable controversy during the last two years including a phantom ‘ad’ brought up at the Nov. 25 Town Council meeting regarding how applicants are recruited for the Town’s boards and commissions, the Town Hall has placed another ad in the classified section of the Dec. 19 issue of another media outlet to notify town residents of openings on both the Board of Architectural Review and the Board of Zoning Appeals. However, the new ad still does not specify a time frame for applications to be submitted or when the appointments will be voted on.

Placement of this ad follows a contentious meeting on Nov. 25 in which former Town Administrator John Perry and Mayor J. Michael Ross placed an item on Council’s agenda calling for the appointment of three residents – Jim McLean, Raymond Fantone and Joseph Richardson – to Town boards and commissions without giving a 30-day notice to the public that these seats were open for appointment as required by Town law. It was the fourth time during the Ross administration that Council has ignored the town law that stipulates how vacancies on the Town’s boards and commissions are to be advertised to the public and filled.

When newly elected councilmen Bob Massa, Bob Mangone and Tom Utroska objected to the unlawful appointment procedures at the Nov. 25 meeting, Perry argued for the appointments of the three individuals, saying the Town Hall advertises on an annual basis to get a build-up of potential appointees.

“We did that,” Perry said, “and we will do that again.”

Perry said the Town had run an ad in a newspaper last April or May (2013) calling for applicants for Town board and commission vacancies, even though there were no vacancies at the time. Perry said the three proposed appointees on the Nov. 25 agenda were the people who responded to that ad and had been patiently waiting to serve. Later in the meeting, however, Ross contradicted Perry, stating that no one had answered the ad which he said was published in April or May 2013.

A search of all issues of both The Voice and The Country Chronicle published during April and May of 2013 failed to turn up any such ad placed by the Town Hall announcing vacancies or calling for applicants for the Town boards and commissions. When asked by The Voice whether the ad had actually been published, a spokesperson for Town Hall said it was published in the classified section of the June 27 issue of The Country Chronicle, not in April or May. That ad turned out to be a ‘Message from the Mayor.’ There was no headline heralding the purpose of the ad, though in small font below, it called for applicants for “seats 3 and 4 of the Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review and Board of Zoning Appeals … to expire on September 30, 2011.” However, there were no agenda items listed for Council meetings in September for appointments to boards and commissions and no appointments were made to the seats in September. The ad made no mention of a time frame for applying for the seats or that it was the annual call for appointees for the Town’s boards and commissions.

The Town’s statutes 155.465 (G) and 155.495 (E), state that, “If a vacancy occurs, the Town will advertise for candidates to fill the vacant seat in the manner in division (D) of this section. Town Council may make an appointment to a vacant seat at any Council meeting held not sooner than 30 days after the advertisement appears in the local newspaper.”

Massa noted at the Nov. 25 meeting that the Town’s statutes governing such appointments was predicated on an existing vacancy, of which, he said, there were none in April or May of 2013.

While the item was tabled at the Nov. 25 meeting, all members of Council have since decided to go along with something similar to the Mayor and Perry’s suggestion for an arbitrary call for applications for seats on the boards and commissions, and not give notice of vacancies. Council passed first reading on Dec. 16 to replace the current statue (that calls for a 30-day notice for applicants) with a new ordinance that would allow for the Town to advertise for applicants semi-annually, sometime in July and sometime in January, even though that would not necessarily be when vacancies would occur. The new ordinance, which does not specify any particular time during those two months for the ad to run, must pass a second reading to become law. That vote is expected to be held at the Jan. 6 special called meeting, although the agenda for that meeting will not be posted until Friday, Jan. 3.

Adding further to the confusion of the Town’s appointment law/policy, the Town’s attorney Jim Meggs said at the Dec. 16 meeting that he had failed to include the Planning Commission appointments in the new ordinance and would bring a new ordinance before Council dealing with how appointments would be handled for the Planning Commission at the next meeting.

A special called Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 6, at Doko Manor at 7 p.m.