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Originally published: 2013-10-12 21:54:39
Last modified: 2013-10-12 21:55:24

Hearing set Tuesday on ETJ appointees

Watauga County will hold a public hearing Tuesday on three ETJ appointees to Boone boards and commissions, an attempt to solve lingering conflicts with the town that date back to 2011.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners is considering appointing Frank Bolick and Dale Greene to the Boone Board of Adjustment and Jon Tate to the Boone Planning Commission.

While the hearing might pacify immediate issues involving these three appointees, the town and county still must reach consensus on what the town ordinance requires -- and what they agreed upon when the conflict started two years ago.

Commissioners voted in July and August to appoint Bolick, Greene and Tate to the respective boards, but only Tate was sworn in.

All three would be representatives of the extraterritorial jurisdiction, a defined area outside town limits subject to its zoning regulations. ETJ residents do not pay town taxes and cannot vote in town elections.

The Boone Town Council advised the county in a Sept. 23 letter that it would not accept Bolick and Greene as members because the county did not hold a public hearing on the names. The council also plans to discuss whether Tate, who was "inadvertently" sworn in, may remain on the planning commission, another topic on Tuesday's council agenda.

The town and county disagree on whether town ordinance requires the public hearing in this case and whether the town has the authority to mandate a hearing. But commissioners opted to hold the hearing anyway to "extend an olive branch," in the words of Commissioner Perry Yates.

Some of the current disagreements stem from varied recollections of the Sept. 12, 2011, meeting where the town and county first met to discuss mutual ETJ appointment issues.

Neither town minutes, county minutes nor media accounts from the meeting mention discussion of a public hearing requirement as part of the Boone ordinance governing appointment procedures.

But when the Boone Town Council unanimously approved the revised ordinance Nov. 15, 2011, it included this revised language: "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."

No one -- including county representatives -- commented on the proposed amendments during a quarterly public hearing the town held Nov. 7, 2011, according to meeting minutes.

Media accounts of the meeting and minutes do, however, mention discussion of possible changes to the town's application.

Commissioners at the time raised objections to one question that asked applicants to rate from 1 to 10 their "support" for the town's 2006 comprehensive plan. Some expressed concerns that the question would lead to representatives who were "too homogeneous" and agreed fully with the town's plans.

A media article from the meeting states: "The council also verbally agreed to change the language on its committee applications to reflect the language in the UDO ordinance, which satisfied a concern of the commissioners."

The article went on to explain that the board of adjustment application would ask applicants' willingness to "apply" the town's ordinances and other plans, while the planning commission application would ask about familiarity with the town's plans.

But the single application available on the town's website Friday contains the same language as it did in 2011, including a question on applicants' "support" for the comprehensive plan.

Tate, the planning commission appointee, raised continued concerns in an interview in September about whether his appointment was being called into question because of his dissenting viewpoints.

Tate, who described himself as conservative, said he has appeared before the town council numerous times in the last 10 years regarding conflicts over his business, which offers towing and booting services.

"I don't follow their agenda to a T," he said. "I'm an outside voice to their agenda. That's why I wanted to be on the planning commission, because I feel everyone should be represented."

County Manager Deron Geouque has sent a letter to the Boone Town Council seeking a joint meeting to discuss ETJ appointments, which the council is slated to consider Tuesday, according to its meeting agenda.

Meanwhile, the public will have the opportunity comment on the appointments of Bolick, Greene and Tate at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Commissioners' Board Room at 814 W. King St. in Boone.