Times up: Momentum on term limits gaining steam
By Emily Bialkowski
Land use issues stir the dust in Houston County, and now there’s a new push to implement term limits on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The Houston County Board received and filed four letters from residents July 9 asking for term limits.
One letter pointed out, aside from new County Board Commissioner Dana Kjome, only one appointed member, Dan Griffin, has served for less than 12 years, and one member has served for 39 years.
Another letter, from Drue Fergison of Money Creek Township, said, “Aside from the recent on-record performance of the disregard in which this commission holds the public good and the county’s ordinances, it is simply a matter of best practice, policy and protocol to have members who serve limited terms.”
Michael Fields of Winnebago Township wrote, “I’ve been paying attention to the machinations of Houston County government for a few years and one thing has become glaringly apparent; too many people with too many conflicts of interest have been in their position for too long.”
On July 2 County Board Commissioner Dana Kjome, who also sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he’d like to see a committee formed to evaluate the constructs of the Planning and Zoning Commission, especially since so many of the members have served for decades. No official action has been taken on that suggestion.
Other counties in the region do impose term limits on such commissions:
• Winona – maximum of six years (two-year terms)
• Goodhue – maximum of nine years (three-year terms)
• Mower – maximum of nine years (three-year terms)
Kjome said, in a follow-up interview, that appreciation should be expressed to those who have served the county for all these years, but that “at some point we’re going to have turnover.”
“Maybe it’s time to get in some new plan commissioners. I’m just trying to get new ideas in there – it’s not that they haven’t done a good job,” Kjome said.
In January of this year, a request by County Board Commissioner Justin Zmyewski to take Terry Rosendahl off the Planning and Zoning Commission fell dead after Environmental Services Director Rick Frank asked the board to consider Rosendahl’s experience.
“When you’re looking at the zoning ordinance itself and implementing it, it does take a lot of time. It’s not an ordinance you can grasp overnight,” Frank said at the time.
Zmyewski said, however, that fresh blood would be a good thing. “I do disagree that just because someone has been there a long time that they’re the right person,” he said.
In a telephone interview last week, Rosendahl said it would “probably be alright” to have term limits. “I know there’s some grumbling going on,” he said, adding that sitting on the Planning and Zoning Commission is not always easy.
“You have to know the zoning and planning regulations and have a feel of the county and which direction they are going. You can’t please everybody – you have to go by the regulations and there’s no in between,” he said.
Rosendahl has sat on the commission for 12 years and said there’s a “rookie curve” to learning the regulations. He likened it to the board of commissioners and its new faces.
“They have a tough job and they’re learning. As far as my take on term limits, if that’s what the commissioners say they’d like to do it’s pretty much up to them.”