Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interesting local discussion I found:

I always found it a bit interesting that some of our local libertarian friends supported stricter land use regulations.

This morning, the Planning Commission met with Randall Arendt for discussion about conservation zoning. Hard to summarize a two hour discussion, but the interesting idea that came out was to consider doing a "model" conservation zoning plan on some local property so folks could see what it really looked like. The other advantage of this and a main reason for considering it was to use such a demonstration to actually advise the Planning Commission on what regulations are reasonable and doable. This would mean shaping regulations around a real life situation rather than creating regs in a vacuum and then trying to form reality around them. I found this very intriguing and exciting and hope that it works.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As you see, I have added a new poll, so please let me know what you think. Also, if you are interested in commenting on my blogs, here is a quick "primer": At the bottom of my posting there is a link called comments. Click on that and it will take you to a page with a place to write your own comments. After you do that, just below there you have to click on one of four "buttons". The first two use existing accounts which, if you have them you probably know how to use them. The last two buttons have a place to leave your name and website if you have one. Then there is a button for "anonymous" I really hope that anyone who comments will be willing to attach your own name to your comment, but you can use the anonymous option if you so desire. I hope to hear from folks on these important issues.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I thought I would comment briefly on the "speed camera" proposal before the Town Council. For those of you who missed it, Police Chief Veal presented data to the Town Council at our recent meeting indicating that we have a large amount of speeding in our town. While much of this is in the 1-10mph over the limit area, there is still a significant amount of speeding which is more than 10mph over the limit. I have heard much complaining about speeding, especially in neighborhoods and certainly this is a serious issue that must be addressed. He has proposed the idea of using cameras to photograph speeding cars with citations then mailed out based on license tags.

I freely confess to mixed feelings on this issue. I certainly do not accept speeding. I have seen the consequences in my ER work and it is not pretty. Certainly we have a very safe town and don't seem to have a large number of major accidents, but prevention is the best cure. I will say that I do not accept the notion presented by some that, if so many people are speeding then the speed limits are too low. Speed limits should be set based on safety not based on what the prevailing speed is on our roads. In addition, even though some roads, such as Taft Highway are admittedly wide and probably designed for higher speeds, nearly our entire town is residential. Taft Highway runs mostly through residential areas. I frequently see young kids walking along Taft going to and from the pool and other recreational activities so I do not agree that we should have a higher speed on this road. Shackleford Ridge is another problem area and, between the narrowness and windiness of the road and the proximity of schools, I don't think the speed limit should be raised there either.

I also want to say that I have great respect for our police force and especially for Chief Veal. Whatever I decide to do on this issue, I know that Chief Veal's only motivation is the safety of our citizens and his officers and that is why I support him and think so highly of him. There are dangers associated with traffic stops to police officers and drivers, especially on some of our roads where the shoulders are narrow or non-existent. I realize we could free up officers to patrol neighborhoods and focus on protecting our local businesses.

So, if the argument against cameras is to allow more speeding by increasing the speed limits or decreasing enforcement, I reject that argument.

However, I confess to reservations. I admit that the idea of speed cameras is somewhat big brother-ish and downright creepy to me. I have concerns about reliability. I have questions about the citation issuance process and want to understand more about that. I realize that, having fixed cameras could lead to improved speeds only in the vicinity of those poles. I have heard complaints that these cameras cause more accidents and have asked Noah Long to provide me the sources confirming these concerns (and would encourage any others with concerns and especially with specific facts to forward them to me). The goal of speed enforcement is to improve safety and, I agree that we should look at some accident data.

So, in short I am keeping an open mind on this and hope to hear more from citizens about how they feel and any specific concerns they have. I hope the council will take a bit of time to deliberate this issue very carefully and listen to all sides.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

In case you don't read beyond this first sentence, I want to announce that The Orchard Band, my acoustic trio with Robert and Alice Thatcher will be performing tomorrow, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009 at the Lion's Club Picnic at Althaus Park behind the Country Club. We will start around 12:30 or maybe just after and play, probably until we run out of songs! I hope everyone can come out, eat some BBQ, buy a raffle ticket for a new car and listen to some classic acoustic folk/rock'n'roll! Y'all Come!

Back to Signal Mountain politics, there's obviously been a lot lately. I think I have covered the dreaded SROZ issue to death, but have just learned that the Planning Commission is trying to get some time with Randall Arendt this month when he comes to town for some work with the RPA. While the budget is tight this year, the cost will apparently be fairly low and worth it. I will want to know exactly what the Planning Commission wants to accomplish for our money. He apparently only has a couple of hours to spare, so I don't think a jawboning session is appropriate. Perhaps a review of the work they've done already on the subdivision regs and how they will interface with whatever zoning regulations they plan to recommend to the Council would be appropriate. Perhaps some counseling on how to work productively with landowners would be useful. Frankly, once they are all done with their work (if I am still on the council at that time) I would like to propose we ask him for a formal review and critique. There has been some talk from the PC that Mr. Arendt's zoning techniques might not be appropriate for Signal Mountain. Obviously, since I ran supporting these priniciples (even before I had ever heard of Mr. Arendt) and since we brought him in as a major consultant and have used his principles to guide the process up until now, I would find a move away from them to be very disappointing. I continue to support conservation zoning as, not only an option but the primary method of zoning in Signal Mountain.

On a personal note, in case you hear anything of a feud between myself and the chair of the Planning Commission, Melissa Cantrell, let me clarify the issue. I appointed Ms. Cantrell to the Planning Commission. While she didn't seem to really understand the principles I was proposing, I had thought she was bright and would learn. The recent actions of the PC (led by her) have disappointed me in that direction (not about her brightness, but about her willingness to learn). However, the source of my personal disappointment with her comes from an email she sent out earlier this year to some of her friends (including Councilmembers) regarding the proposed sale of the town ballfields for commercial development which I opposed. In it she accused me of being "untruthful" (her actual words was that a statement I made was "a lot less damning and, from what I can tell, a lot more truthful than" what I had previously stated on the subject). I frankly found this to be a personal attack on my character and challenged her to produce an example of any lying on my part. She was unable to do so and only made a vague statement about how "people talk around here". I still expect an apology and have yet to receive one.

Sorry to get into personal issues, but interactions between public officials about public issues I feel should be brought to light. I have always endeavored to be open and honest about my opinions and positions. If you want to know what I think, just ask me. You'll pardon me for being too dramatic, but if I can tell someone they have cancer, or that their father/mother/spouse or child has just died in the emergency room, it should be clear that I don't have any problem telling someone that I disagree with their political positions or business plans. To be accused of lying behind people's backs is antithetical to my character and honor and I take great umbrage at this sort of personal attack. The whole recall incident (of which Ms. Cantrell was a part) was unfortunate not because of disagreements over policy, but because of personal attacks and accusations about individuals. I told that group so at the beginning, that while I had great sympathy and agreement with their basic concerns about density and proper land use planning, that their tactic of pursuing a recall was personal, vindictive and would distract from the basic issue at hand, zoning. I still feel I was right about this.

My issue with the whole question of selling town property wasn't the proposal itself. Anyone can propose whatever they want and we'll decide what to do. It was the hypocrisy and manner in which it was presented. Former PC chairman Dan Saieed was attacked viciously over meetings he held with landowners to get an idea of their preferences for development. Because of the private business nature of those meetings, he held them in private. However, he announced them in advance and made sure that our town attorney was present. He then presented the preferences to the PC and the public, but in a way that protected individual business plans. It should be noted that those proposals were not adopted. When Mr. Saieed's term on the PC was up, he considered asking for reappointment, but wanted to know if he had the support of the Council. When I asked them, they attacked him in a manner that I found surprising since they had spoken very highly of him in public. Bill Lusk had obtained the email files of all the previous Councilmembers and Planning Commission from our email server (these are public documents, after all) and suggested that I read them to find all the heinous things they said he had done, including these meetings. After some soul-searching, I decided to do a brief review of some of these communications (I had a hard time justifying the amount of time required, but considering the implication of unethical behavior, I thought it was important) and was frankly unable to found anything I found to be unacceptable. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find references to early recommendations by Mr. Saieed to bring in Randall Arendt for advice and also to how impressed Mr. Saieed was with Annette Allen's presentations to the PC and that he was strongly recommending getting her involved with the PC for help with the Land Use Review). When I communicated this back to the Council and asked for examples of what they found so objectionable, I never received even the courtesy of a reply. Regrettably, I had to inform Mr. Saieed that, while he had my support he did not have the support of the Council and he withdrew his request. He now serves the town very honorably as an active member of the Lion's Club and his long years of service to our town are, in my opinion, unblemished by any unethical or inappropriate behavior.

After this incident, however when it was proposed that we meet individually and privately with commercial developers about plans to buy town property for private commercial development I was frankly flabbergasted. This was accepted with great enthusiasm by the very people who had attacked Mr. Saieed for doing something similar. However, we met without advance public notice and without benefit of legal council or anyone else in attendance for a witness about what was said or privately agreed to. I found this highly objectionable. That's the honest truth and if there is anything "untruthful" in that, I wait to have it pointed out to me. I have no reason to think that anyone on the council did anything other than what I did, listen to the proposal and then tell them that any further discussions would have to be in public and with the full participation of the community and I would be guided by that input. Any implications to the contrary are not from me. It did seem to me that the fact that the developers moved ahead and made a formal proposal to the town indicated they had received some encouragement. However, the acceptability of this process by this Council after the attacks on Mr. Saieed continues to astound me. These sorts of incidents are a major source of my disappointment with the current council. And that's the truth.