14-member planning commission is history

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday’s meeting of the Suffolk Planning Commission was rather unremarkable, by most standards. The group approved a couple of subdivision plats and passed a rezoning request for a residential development.

However, when Chairman Howard Benton adjourned the meeting, it went down in Suffolk history as the last meeting of a 14-member planning commission.

City Council voted in February to reorganize each city board and commission so that each has only eight members — one from each borough and one appointed at-large, by the mayor. Besides the Planning Commission, other bodies in the city have more than eight members, including the Clean Community Commission and the Roadway Maintenance Advisory Commission. Those currently having only seven members will be adding the at-large member, and include the Airport Commission, Fine Arts Commission and Historic Landmarks Commission.

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City Council is set to vote on eight new nominations for the Planning Commission tonight. Some commissioners said on Tuesday that they don’t know if they still will be on the commission for the July meeting.

“I have no clue,” said James Shirley. Shirley recently was appointed to the Economic Development Authority, but resigned without attending a single meeting in protest of the forced resignation of Economic Development Director Cynthia Cave.

Benton, the chairman of the commission, wouldn’t let on whether he knew if his spot was secure.

“Council makes the decision,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Ross Boone, however, not only said that he wouldn’t be returning to the commission, but also named one other commissioner that he knew would not be returning. Boone asked that his name be removed for consideration in lieu of the more experienced colleague from his borough, he said.

“Sylvester [Jones] has 26 years of experience,” Boone said, noting that his own appointment was only meant to be temporary in the first place. “He has the knowledge.”

“I care about what happens in the city, but I also understand that he has more experience.”

Boone stressed that he considers the reorganization a good opportunity to make the commission more reflective of the community. Although spread pretty evenly racially, the current planning commission consists of 14 males, all over the age of 50.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to get some females and some younger people,” Boone said.

The City Council will discuss appointments to 17 different boards and commissions during closed session Wednesday, and will announce and vote on them at the end of the regular session, which begins at 7 p.m. at 441 Market St.