This letter is written in response to a Sept. 7 Delaware State News story titled “Sussex P&Z: Public health conditions don’t merit call-ins during meetings.” The article outlined the Aug. 29 Planning & Zoning Commission discussion about reinstating call-in public comments during its meetings. At the meeting, I mentioned only health reasons due to the limited time.
The P&Z chair is out of touch with the lives of many Sussex Countians, expecting anyone who cares to speak would and could show up at the meetings.
Sometimes, the comments come to our mind only after hearing the applicant’s presentation. Isn’t that a reason the commission defers their decision, as well? Should we endure the unpleasant drive, due to the rampant developments and roadblocks going on, all the way to Georgetown and find a parking space just in case we would have something to speak about? So, if they disallow the phone comments, at least they must leave the public record open for another week or two.
Some people cannot drive in the dark or toward the sun or during bad weather, such as high heat/pollen/bad air, even without the traffic and construction nightmare. Why does he assume everyone has transportation means and time to spend hours there? Most people live with time constraints and other obligations, such as taking care of someone in the family or having to work or attending some other meetings.
Fuel and parking costs are another matter. The public is not paid to be there as commissioners are, but I do not mean to discount the amount of the commissioners’ work.
Is he unaware that the parking situation has been a nightmare with the courthouse construction? Even without the construction, in front of the county Administrative Offices building, there are not many parking spots marked for people with disabilities. Do they satisfy the Americans With Disabilities Act regulations? What if several disabled people are attending the meeting? A friend with a bad knee could not find a parking space and returned home. She will never try again.
In December 2016, I was there when Planning & Zoning approved a 314-lot subdivision by having one commissioner vote yes by phone, making up the third yes vote, without which it would not have been approved. Should we challenge to void this vote now?
The P&Z chair says the call-in was instituted only due to the pandemic emergency, and we are simply reverting to the old ways. Still, the pandemic measures introduced us to the merits of the call-in options and virtual meetings. Did Planning & Zoning or County Council accept emailed comments decades ago? No, but as technology advances, our ways of communication change, which is why facsimiles and slow mail have been replaced by emails. The better is to evolve and adapt to changes sooner than later.
If call-in comments are difficult to understand, ask for written submissions instead of removing them from everyone.
By the way, removing the call-in option also removed the public’s opportunity to listen in, which was invaluable for people traveling or who do not have a good internet connection.
The chair’s reasons for removing the phone comments display his unwillingness to understand and accommodate people not as lucky to have his health, youth and means to attend those in-person meetings.
The question is whether a government agency is to serve the public or rule the public with rules convenient for the agency. The commission is not an elected body and may not think they represent the public, but they are appointed by the elected body, the County Council, and sworn in every July to serve the public.
I thank the Sussex council for leaving open the call-in option and hope the P&Z Commission decides on this matter with the mind-set to serve the public best.
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