We, as citizens, must follow our current Tooele County laws; however, our current/past elected/appointed leaders of the County do not follow the same laws. I have witnessed this action personally multiple times throughout the last 25 years. The offending parties give the talk it will not happen again, that next time they will follow the laws that govern them and us — and then I watch it happen again and again.
On Jan 3, 2018, the Tooele County Planning Commission met and pushed through a subdivision, even though it did not meet current County laws. Gary Searle (Chief Deputy Tooele County Attorney) was asked if the law prohibited what was being considered before the planning commission. Searle said his department, combined with the planning staff, would make sure that this would not happen again. He then mentioned a litigious term, “detriment,” which he politely implied may be used against the County if the planning commission didn’t push the subdivision through.
So, there we sat, watching the planning commission members try to decide what to do. Should they follow our existing laws, or should they disregard them, because some past planning commission had already disregarded the law, and now, if the current commission did not uphold this unlawful act, the party affected may now use “detriment” to file a lawsuit. A vote was taken, and the majority of the commission actually chose not to uphold our current law. The subdivision was given final approval.
I have witnessed many shortcomings and fallacies in government over the years. I have publicly commented, during meetings, about these shortcomings in hopes that they may be corrected, only to be disappointed. The planning commission currently allows preliminary and final plat approvals of subdivisions and PUDs to be combined as one item on its agenda. If they are separated, and the preliminary is approved, the planning commission, according to Searle, may then be subject to “detriment” if it does not approve the final. This has the effect of nullifying any new concerns that may arise before the final is approved. It appears there really is a difference between the laws that govern all citizens and what our leaders are actually required to follow. Leaders really should not be above the law.
I have heard people suggest citizens should be more involved in the process along the way. That’s a great sounding statement, however, it does not function well. Some planning commission members have learned that if they quickly propose motions to be voted upon, a vote must take place at that time. At this point, only a simple majority is needed, and as a result, we get an item passed through without careful deliberation or consideration of the laws. Generally, a commission member will say that it’s only a concept plan, or that final approvals still need to be met throughout the process and this just gets the ball rolling. I must forewarn that this is a dangerous slippery slope, because it opens the commission to that “detriment” referenced by Searle. Coupled along with this, public hearings are limited to just preliminary approvals. Typically, the information provided for the public to scrutinize is only posted publicly, and in limited detail, a few days before the scheduled hearing.
It was implied at this meeting the one reason we have hired a County planning staff is to prevent this in the future. Please realize that the planning staff was not even aware of the current laws governing this particular parcel of land.
Is it really that much to ask that the laws us citizens are expected to follow, should also be followed by those who are elected or appointed?
Jonathan Garrard is a resident of Lake Point.