Tag Archives: planning

Ethics Commission Levies $10K Penalties Against 3 Planning Commissioners

The Tennessee Ethics Commission has decided against penalizing 28 planning commissioners around the state who filed financial disclosures late, while voting to levy fines of $10,000 each against three who failed to file any report at all.
City, county and regional planning commissioners were not required to file the financial disclosure statements demanded of most local government officials until this year. A bill passed by the Legislature last year mandated the filings for the first time and they were due Jan. 31.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, had some difficulty in notifying planning commissioners around the state of the new law since it appears there is no listing of all in any one place. And he said that some planning commissioners — many of whom serve on a voluntary, unpaid basis — apparently resigned rather than file a statement listing their financial interests.
“We’ve had several planning commissioners call and say, ‘I’m resigning. I’m not going to file’,” he told the commission.
Later, Rawlins said staff did not keep a record of how many such calls were received.
“It might not have been more than 10 or 15,” he said. “Some just called and cussed us out. … They were not happy about doing this.”
Rawlins and the commissioners said during their discussion that, given the requirement was new, those who filed after the deadline — some more than two months late — would simply get a letter saying the commission would take no action, but they would be subject to penalty for late filing if late again next year. The penalty for late filing can be up to $25 per day.
On the other hand, those who had received a notice of the law and never filed a report despite follow-up letters after the deadline had passed, will face the maximum penalty for failure to file, $10,000.
The three who now face $10,000 civil penalties, according to commission documents, are Mike Floyd of the Maury County Planning Commission, Carroll Cate of the Polk County Planning Commission and Cindy Marlow of the Adamsville Planning Commission. They will get letters later this week advising them of the penalty.
If the three now file a disclosure form and offer an apology or explanation, they can ask the commission to reconsider the penalty. People in that situation traditionally can have the penalty reduced substantially or eliminated.
“They (commissioners) are trying to get their attention,” said Rawlins.
State Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have exempted planning commissioners in their area from filing a disclosure, but later withdrew the measure.

Planning Commissioners Required to File Ethics Disclosures

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House has given final approval to a bill requiring local and regional planning commissioners to file interest disclosures with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
The House voted 88-2 Thursday to pass the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto of Nashville. The measure would require the state’s estimated 3,000 planning commissioners to submit the same disclosure requirements as many other public officials.
The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month.
The disclosure law already applies to most state and local officials. According to the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, more than 7,500 officials have filed disclosure forms since the beginning of the year.
While several Republicans raised concerns about the bill in House committee, there was no debate about the measure on the floor Thursday.

Ethics Disclosure for Planning Commissions Draws Objections

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill seeking to require local and regional planning commissioners to file interest disclosures with the Tennessee Ethics Commission was met with last-minute resistance in the House on Thursday.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, would subject the state’s estimated 3,000 planning commissioners to the same disclosure requirements as elected officials. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month.
“This is simply an attempt to try to have more transparency and more information available to the public about those unelected officials that have great control over what happens in their communities,” Gotto told the House Calendar Committee.
But House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, questioned if the change would present a significant cost increase to the state and tried to move the bill back to a subcommittee for fiscal analysis.

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On Abolishing Planning Commissions

From a Frank Cagle commentary:
There is a bill to abolish the Metropolitan Planning Commission that may pass out of a House subcommittee in Nashville this week (HB3519). The bill was not expected to even get a vote this year, but it has drawn a surprising amount of support. It will likely not survive a full committee vote but it is something of a bellwether that it got this far.
Home builders, chambers of commerce, Realtors, and others involved in development are frustrated. Times are hard and deals are even harder to get done. The sentiment to loosen regulation and speed up the process to get projects done has never been stronger.
The bill is the “nuclear option” and, of course, it is not the answer to some of the problems developers cite. Urban areas have to have some sort of planning when it comes to development. But herewith some concerns I have heard about MPCs in general, including Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis.
…When a developer puts together a deal it is a balancing act between the land cost, the building cost, the infrastructure costs, and the costs of financing. The formula determines the cost per unit, whether houses or condos or apartments. When the bureaucrats change their mind and decide the developer has too many units on the land and reduces them, it screws the formula. The complicated deal becomes even more complex.

Niceley Proposes to Abolish Metropolitan Planning Commission

State Rep. Frank Niceley wants to get the attention of the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission. So much, Mike Donila reports, that he’s introduced legislation that would abolish the office and turn all its duties, functions and responsibilities over to the Knox County Commission — a plan its own chairman says he doesn’t support.
Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said he’s upset with the planning panel and thinks it’s time for a change.
“We want to let them know that the Legislature created them and if they get out of hand, then the Legislature can uncreate them,” he said, adding that his proposal stems from conversations he’s had with local developers who were upset about the MPC’s support of the Ridgetop and Hillside Protection Plan.
The State & Local Government Subcommittee may talk about the House bill today, although Niceley conceded “that there’s not much chance of it passing.”
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is sponsoring the state Senate version of the bill. He consented at Niceley’s request but said he is not focused on the proposal.
“I’m deferring to him. If he can make it happen in the House, then I’ll get into it,” he said
.

New TDOT Environment & Planning Chief Named

News release from Department of Transportation:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer names Adetokunbo “Toks” Omishakin as the new Chief of Environment and Planning for the department. Omishakin will also assume the role of Assistant Commissioner for TDOT. In his new post, Omishakin will direct the Environment and Planning Bureau which oversees the Project Planning, Long-Range Planning, Multimodal Transportation Resources and Environmental Divisions.
Before joining TDOT, Omishakin served as the Director of Healthy Living Initiatives in the Mayor’s Office in Nashville. Omishakin also held positions as the Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator, Senior Planner and the Director of “Music City Moves” for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Omishakin holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) with a concentration in transportation planning and urban design. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Technology with a concentration in architecture and computer- aided design.
“TDOT is very fortunate to have Toks Omishakin as our new Chief of Environment and Planning” said Commissioner Schroer. “Toks’s expertise in transportation planning will be a tremendous asset to the department and I am confident he will lead our efforts to be an environmentally sensitive agency.”
“I appreciate Commissioner Schroer’s confidence in my ability to direct the Environment and Planning Bureau,” said Omishakin. “I look forward to the critical role of managing project development while balancing the state’s transportation needs with TDOT’s commitment to protect the environment.”
Omishakin will assume his role with TDOT on October 24. A high resolution image of Mr. Omishakin is attached to this e-mail.

ECD Offers Grants to Communites for Planning Services (formerly provided by fired ECD staff)

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today announced the agency is now accepting applications for transition funding from the 212 communities for whom ECD formerly provided local planning services.
Governor Bill Haslam included $1 million for the transition in his 2011-2012 budget and each community applying for grant funds will receive an equal amount. Grant applications will be e-mailed directly to each of the client communities and applicants will have until September 1, 2011 to return the form. Applications will also be available on the agency’s web site at www.tn.gov/ecd.
“We understand this is a period of transition for those communities who used ECD for planning purposes,” said Commissioner Hagerty. “As we move to make local planning truly a local function, we want to provide the help needed to make that happen as seamlessly as possible.”
Commissioner Hagerty added that only communities with contracts for local planning services with ECD during the 2010-2011 fiscal year and who received a notice of contract termination from ECD will be eligible to apply for the grants. The applicant community must be willing to match the grant with funding equal to their 2011 Local Planning Assistance service fee for the transition and must guarantee the funds will be used for services from a qualified planning professional.
ECD announced it would end local planning services for communities in April as part of a reorganization of the department. As part of the reorganization, ECD announced it would temporarily maintain a staff of planning professionals to assist local communities in obtaining planning services through a private firm, a local development district or through other options. If the community has signed an agreement with a development district to provide planning services, the development district may apply for the transition grant, but will be required to provide proof of a contract or service agreement in order to qualify.

Not All Applauding Haslam’s Plans for ECD Cuts

Gov. Bill Haslam says that, as mayor of Knoxville, he never even heard of the Department of Economic and Community Development’s regional planning offices, which will be abolished with 71 jobs eliminated as part of his new plans for having ECD create more jobs. But it seems some local officials had.
From the Shelbyville Times-Gazette:
Layoffs at the state Department of Economic and Community Development will affect Bedford County’s ability to study the impact of proposed subdivisions and other developments, according to Bedford County director of planning and zoning Chris White.
Haslam told The Associated Press that big cities and counties didn’t use the service and smaller cities and counties didn’t need it. “I don’t know why the state should be helping with subdivision plans,” he said.
But White said the service is invaluable to Bedford County. Bedford County contracts with the state to provide planning services, and the county’s assigned state planner, Bryan Collins, sits next to White at county planning commission meetings.
White said Collins is “an expert advisor in community planning, zoning and subdivision regulations … [and] an advisor to me on a weekly basis assisting me on a plethora of planning questions that come up regularly.”

From the Greeneville Sun, on closing the ECD office in Johnson City::
The Greene County Planning Commission and the Planning Commissions of Greeneville, Baileyton, Mosheim and Tusculum — as well as local developers, real estate agents, and individuals that deal with planning and zoning issues — have for many years leaned heavily on the advice and help of contract staff planners from the Johnson City Office.
From the Johnson City Press:
Mike Rutherford, Washington County’s zoning administrator, said the closing will be a blow to his department, financially and otherwise.
“I’m very disappointed that the governor cut that program out,” Rutherford said. “That was an essential service to the local community that allowed us to advance our planning agenda, without the tremendous overhead of employing an independent planner.”
Since Rutherford joined the zoning office in 1989, he has recommended renewing his office’s contract with the state’s planning assistance office every year. The cost of that annual contract is around $13,000, while to employ a private planner would cost upward of $40,000 a year, he said.
“They fill so many voids and allow us to devote our time to other tasks,” he said. “The information they bring, as well as the services like just keeping us advised of all changes in state statutes, is invaluable.”
Even though they provided part-time help on a consulting basis, Rutherford said, it will be like losing full-time employees.
P.C. Snapp, now executive director of the Washington County Economic Development Board, ran the local planning office from 1967 to 1998. He called the closings a “tragic mistake” that will “destroy smaller communities.”
Smaller, more rural communities rely on the office to help them keep up to date on development issues without having to pay a private planner to make numerous trips to hearings and meetings all over the region, both Snapp and Rutherford said.

And, this from the Tennessee Democratic Party:
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester released
the following statement in response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Jobs4TN” initiative
of Economic and Community Development Department:
The plan’s flowery rhetoric and lack of detail doesn’t inspire much hope for unemployed Tennesseans. The only concrete action Haslam has laid out is to immediately fire 60 people from the staff that helped Tennessee land Volkswagen, Nissan, Hemlock and Wacker Chemie.
We can debate the details of this plan going forward, but the fact remains that the best jobs plan in the world isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans if the commissioner, who is supposed to implement the plan, is off part time running a presidential campaign for his old boss.
We have a jobs crisis at hand, and Tennesseans deserve their economic development commissioner’s full attention and 100-percent commitment to the job.
When you are working for taxpayers, you should have to earn your $200,000
compensation package, missing state business because your other boss calls is
unacceptable
.