My nomination to the Planning Commission
It became public last night that Mayor Taylor has decided to nominate me for the post on the Sterling Heights City Planning Commission that has been vacated by Al Kollmorgan. Predictably, it didn’t take too long for people to question what my qualifications for the job are, or what impact, if any, will this have on my writings in this space. Here’s what happened.
Mayor Taylor approached me about a month ago and asked me if I would be interested in the seat that had become vacant on the planning commision. I’m paraphrasing, but, his actual words were to the effect of “there’s an opening on the Planning Commission, and I want you to fill it.”
The reader is asked to keep in mind that the dust-up over the mosque issue late last summer has not yet receded from anyone’s memory. During that debacle, members of the Planning Commission felt intense pressure to make the right decision, especially with people like myself stating publicly what they thought should be done. So I approached this decision knowing that there could be some real work involved, and that it might not all be pleasant. So I gave this the same sort of thought one might have when considering a large purchase, say of an automobile, or in deciding whether or not to leave a job for a new one. I asked questions. I talked to people. I thought long and hard. Perhaps most importantly, I discussed it at length with my wife, Angela, who is my life’s witness, best friend and partner.
When he asked me to consider accepting a nomination, I asked to meet with the Mayor in person to discuss the reasons he had for nominating me. We met for a couple of hours one Sunday not long ago, and had a long discussion about his vision of how I would approach the job and why he thought I should seriously consider doing it.
The net result of that discussion and discussions with other people about the subject can be summarized as follows: being a Planning Commissioner requires learning how the city’s Master Plan document is put together. It requires learning about the zoning ordinance, and it relies upon the commissioner to then be able to interpret what is in the law and meld that with the recommendations of the city’s Planning Department to come up with decisions that represent the best interests of the city’s residents, both commercial and private, as a whole. It requires gaining insight into the planning process, developing an understanding of the sometimes competing interests of developers, real estate professionals, residents, and people who make use of a given area. It requires the capacity for abstract thought, and a strong ethical sense to guide the commissioner toward doing what is right. I have the ability to accomplish these tasks successfully, and I believe my thinking skills and ethics will on balance help me to make the best possible decisions. Those, in a nutshell, are my qualifications for the position. The fact that I am capable of telling people of my reasoning in a clear fashion will lend even more transparency to the planning process than there already is, which is considerable.
As informed readers know, the Planning Commission represents an oversight process within the city to help ensure that the interests of everyone who might propose or be affected by new development are carefully balanced, and that the decisions taken do not place too high of a premium on one group’s interests over the other while remaining in compliance with the law. The Commission acts as a check and balance against all of the parties involved. It is a responsibility you want the city to give to people who you can trust to be fair and reasonable, and the mayor and other members of council have assured me that they think I have those qualities. I am honored and humbled by their trust.
In addition, the city seeks to appoint people to its boards and commissions who have a track record of wanting what’s best for the city. It tries to match the prospective board members with the organization that they are interested in and willing to serve upon for little or no monetary compensation. This means that you have to want to do this type of job for the sake of doing it, and hopefully doing it well, for its own satisfaction, because it doesn’t pay much, the effort required to do it well is considerable, and the task is not to be taken lightly. I have developed a strong interest in the way local government works in my time of involvement with city politics. I am a technically-oriented man, and yes, I really am interested in and want to know what is happening at a level of government function that many people take for granted. It is unusual, I admit, but I play the cards I’ve been dealt.
So in light of the requirements and my fit within them, I gave myself time to think about this. I, too, am a busy man with the full complement of wife, family, demanding job, home maintenance responsibilities, hobbies and interests. I already have a couple of things with regard to the City of Sterling Heights that I would like to accomplish: continual improvement and nurturing of the CERT team, and a drastic improvement in the safety of the stretch of 15 Mile Road near my home. I also wish to remain one of our city’s voices on the various issues that we publicly consider, both via this blog and by speaking before council.
I could very easily, and in clear conscience, have told the Mayor that no, I am too busy with what I’ve already got on my plate, I’m already visible enough, I’m concerned about issues like the mosque, etc.
But I didn’t. Instead, I chose to accept the position, but with one important condition: this blog must be allowed to continue as I see fit. The mayor has assured me this will be the case.
Now, my understanding is that I can write about the matters that come before the Planning Commission, and if I find something to be interesting, relevant, and something I want to express myself about, I will do so. Whether or not I actually will do so is up to me. If something has to remain confidential before a decision can be made in a public meeting, I will follow the advice and counsel of the city’s attorney, but if there is something that needs to be said after the fact, I will say it.
As far as my status as a city watchdog is concerned, I daresay that will not change much, although my effort in this regard may well become better informed and more nuanced. We shall see. This is a growth opportunity for me, and I will doubtless learn many things.
I’m accepting this nomination for a few reasons: one, to have the opportunity to do good for the residents of our city; two, because it will be an interesting learning experience for me; and three, because Mayor Taylor asked me to do it. I’m not about to promise anyone a future decision about anything will go a certain way, and I am highly unlikely to be influenced by people who seek to convince me to do something I would otherwise not do. I am a contrarian and an independent thinker, and I can only promise to use my best judgement with every matter that comes before me, and to make the best informed decisions I am capable of.
I am excited about this opportunity, and I look forward to making the acquaintance of the other people who sit on this particular commission. I know a couple of them already, and I feel like I will work well with all of them.
As I said last night, if I am appointed I will be proud to serve. I look forward to the council’s decision on June 7.