Planning Commission votes to ignore continuing education legislation

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Members of the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission decided education may not be a good thing -- if the state orders them to get it.
   The commission voted Tuesday night to exempt themselves from acquiring continuing education courses required by the state of Tennessee under new legislation passed by the General Assembly this year.
   "This is extremely demanding and time consuming for each of us," said Director of Planning and Development, David Ornduff, regarding the legislation, "and will in all likelihood deter qualified people from serving on the planning commission and board of zoning appeals."
   The legislation requires planning commissioners of a participating planning entity to attend a minimum of four hours of training and continuing education chosen from various planning-related subjects.
   Education subjects range from land use planning and zoning, flood plain management, land subdivisions, ethics and land use law, natural resources and agricultural land conservation, and economic development.
   State law reads that a planning commissioner who fails to complete the requisite continuing education may be removed as a commissioner. Ornduff also noted that the legislation required 16 hours of continuing education to be completed by a municipality's planning director.
   Despite the requirements, the legislation eventually included a safety valve for legislative bodies to duck out of the requirement altogether.
   David Moore of the state's Regional Planning Office cautioned the commission that taking advantage of educational opportunities made for a wiser, more well-informed planning commission.
   "We would recommend the members do participate in continuing education that is offered," said Moore. "It leads to a better educated planning commission and a better educated board of zoning appeals."
   Ornduff said commissioners were currently permitted to take continuing education courses of their choice. Commissioners are not required to take any continuing education courses in regards to land use or zoning issues.
   A municipality's council or commission may opt into the plan by passage of a resolution.
   Moore said it was his opinion that since the Elizabethton Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals had the same members, four hours of continuing education per member would satisfy the legislation's requirement.
   Ornduff disagreed, citing an opinion of city attorney Roger Day that eight hours of education would be required to meet the planning mandate.
   "I don't believe it would be a difficulty to find four hours of continuing education for this board," said Moore.
   However, Ornduff was adamant that the legislation forced the hand of planners and created another "unfunded mandate" of educating planners at the city's expense.
   "We don't need to be forced to do something we can do in our own time," he said.
   The Commission voted 5-0 to pass a resolution allowing them to avoid the legislation's requirements. Commissioners Manual Bandarra and Jack Cole were absent.
   In other business, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a plan of city services for the Richard and Angela Clark property at 1302 Broad Street Extension and the Emmanuel Village student housing at the Emmanuel School of Religion.
   The plan of services outlines city amenities such as police and fire protection, city school designation, as well as water and sewer services provided to the annexed property owners.