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Originally published: 2013-09-24 18:10:21
Last modified: 2013-09-25 10:24:11

Boone refuses ETJ appointments

The Boone Town Council has refused to accept two appointees from the extraterritorial jurisdiction to town boards, saying county commissioners made procedural errors when they appointed the members in July and August.

The town also is considering removing a third appointee who was "inadvertently" sworn in before it realized the error.

Town Manager Greg Young raised concerns in a letter dated Sept. 23 about the appointments of Dale Greene to the Boone Board of Adjustment and Frank Bolick to the Boone Planning Commission.

He also advised the county that the Town Council will reconsider in October whether Jon Tate, another ETJ appointee, may continue to serve on the Boone Planning Commission.

The town and county battled in 2011 about the issue of ETJ appointments, debating the wording of the town's Unified Development Ordinance, which couples with state statute to set rules for board appointments.

Among the UDO rules are: "The Town Council may itself solicit applications for the position, and it may transmit its two top choices for each position to the Board of Commissioners. If the Board of Commissioners is unwilling to appoint either of the two applicants submitted by the Town Council, it may appoint a person of its own choosing. However, before appointing a new person to the Planning Commission (or Board of Adjustment), the Watauga County Board of Commissioners must hold a public hearing on the selection."

The town and county appear to now be interpreting those UDO changes made in 2011 differently.

Bill Bailey, Boone's planning and inspections director, said the town received only one applicant for the Planning Commission: current member Donald Dotson. Despite advertising the volunteer position for "quite a while," no one else expressed interest, Bailey said.

Without a second name, Boone continued to wait, submitting no recommendations to the county, he said.

"Based on the provision, we can't forward the one person, so we didn't forward anybody," he said.

With no other recommendations from the town, the Board of Commissioners appointed Greene and Bolick to the two boards after a second reading July 16.

At the Aug. 6 meeting, commissioners also appointed Tate to the Planning Commission. They also chose two other men recommended by the Boone Town Council for regular and alternate positions on the Board of Adjustment; those two members have been sworn in without dispute.

The county held no public hearings with any of those appointments.

Bailey said he believed the public hearing requirement should have been triggered for the appointments of Bolick, Greene and Tate even though the county had no recommendations from the town.

Nathan Miller, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said he interpreted the ordinance differently.

"If they didn't recommend anybody, I don't think we'd have to hold a hearing," he said.

Miller said the Board of Commissioners "had no idea" that the UDO changed in 2011 to require such a hearing. He said the board would have gladly held one if it thought it were required.

But he added that the town had never before required a public hearing for these appointments and questioned whether the town has the authority to require a hearing.

State statute 160A-362 requires a public hearing only when a county is making new appointments in cases where a town's ETJ population has grown.

"The UDO oversteps statutory authority," Miller said.

The town's letter does not outline what it wants the county to do next, other than comply with the ordinance.

"I would say that a possible remedy would be to hold a public hearing as described in the UDO," Young said Tuesday. "If they abide by the UDO and our understanding, then I would say that (Town Council members) would give that consideration."

The Boone Town Council met in closed session Thursday to "to consult with the town attorney ... for legal advice concerning procedural deficiencies of board appointments."

Although the town clerk said no action was taken after closed session, Young said he was instructed to draft the letter to the county manager explaining its concerns.

Boone Town Council members did not immediately return messages left Tuesday afternoon.

Miller indicated that the approval of ETJ appointments might continue to be divisive.

"We've already had fights over this before," he said. "We may be going that way again."