Why the hurry to trim?

Published 11:29 am Friday, November 28, 2008

It was a surprise topic during the Suffolk City Council meeting last week, but none of the members seemed all that surprised when Suffolk Borough Councilman Charles D. Parr Sr. asked for a vote to reduce the Planning Commission from 14 members to 8.

Parr’s motion died for lack of a second, and members decided they would address the subject of reorganizing the Planning Commission and other appointed bodies during a work session next week.

One thing missing from the brief discussion that followed Parr’s motion was a strong statement of the purpose of such a move. Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer mentioned the idea of “downsizing the bureaucracy,” and Chuckatuck Borough Councilman Joseph H. Barlow suggested that the 14-member group is unwieldy, but no facts were offered to support their positions.

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Even without the validating information, council members seemed supportive of the move; they concentrated more on asking city staff for information about how it would be implemented than they did on whether the change would be useful.

It has been speculated on this page that council wants to get the Planning Commission under control following that body’s move to slow down a proposal by CenterPoint Properties to build a controversial warehousing and distribution center along Holland Road.

Although the coincidental timing of Parr’s request — a scant 24 hours after planners put the brakes on the CenterPoint project — could surely lead one to wonder about City Council’s motives for trimming the commission, we will refrain from taking a jaundiced view until we’ve seen more evidence during next week’s meeting.

Nonetheless, we’re glad to have heard Mayor Linda Johnson provide some balance to the discussion. “This is new territory for us,” she said, suggesting that council members could benefit both from an assessment of the facts involved and from a survey of other opinions.

It would be encouraging to see the council take her implicit advice and build a strong case for any change it proposes on the Planning Commission. Suffolk citizens should demand careful consideration before any change is made.