By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
For the second consecutive meeting, Bowling Green City Council was divided over just how the city charter should be updated. And again, the vote was not according to party lines.
The issue Monday evening was city planning. The decision boiled down to which was more important – protecting the integrity of the city charter, stressing the importance of city planning, or trying to do both.
When it came to a vote, those wanting to keep the charter pristine while emphasizing city planning in ordinance form were Mike Aspacher, Bruce Jeffers and Greg Robinette.
Those wanting to add a longer definition of city planning to the charter were Daniel Gordon, Bill Herald, Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino.
Bowling Green voters will make the final decision on the charter change in November.
The background on the vote began earlier this year when the charter update committee made a recommendation that a detailed definition for city planning be added to the city charter. Initially City Attorney Mike Marsh shortened the definition to make it more streamlined for the charter. However, he was asked to reintroduce the charter amendment using the longer version.
That led to a debate among council members about the need to keep the charter uncluttered, and the need to place more emphasis on city planning. At the last council meeting, East Side resident Les Barber pleaded with council to allow the longer version in the charter. A lack of planning in the past has led to many neighborhood issues on the East Side that have spread to the West Side of the city.
The language approved Monday evening lists the planning director’s duties as on-going study, investigation and analysis of all municipal planning functions, including zoning, platting, housing, zoning and subdivision codes, and code enforcement, including how each of the functions impacts the well being of the city’s neighborhoods, commercial and industrial areas.
Robinette said he listened to various viewpoints, and while appreciating the passion of Barber and others, he still believes the charter is not the place for prioritizing planning.
As council members, he said, they must “be rigorous defenders” of the city charter.
However, he also proposed that the extended definition be placed in ordinance form in the city’s administrative code. That would allow “every word, every phrase” to be included in an ordinance while protecting the “integrity of the charter,” Robinette said.
Jeffers also felt that putting the shorter version in the charter would give planning prominence. He talked about the need for some mention in the charter, since unlike parks and sewers, planning is a less concrete city function.
“If we don’t do good planning, nobody knows it until it’s way too late,” Jeffers said.
Aspacher agreed with the compromise of putting the shorter description in the charter, then backing it up with the more descriptive ordinance. He mentioned the city’s commitment to planning as obvious by recent efforts like the land use plan and Community Action Plan.
But Rowland said she supported placing more emphasis on planning in the city charter.
“It’s basically planning for the future,” she said.
While some members believe the emphasis on planning “violates the purity” of the city charter, Zanfardino said that reasoning is not sound. The longer language doesn’t limit the planning department, but rather states its importance, he said.
Gordon agreed that the desire to keep the charter streamlined should not be more important than the purpose behind the wording. He said several residents have voiced their feelings that the lack of planning in the past has caused big problems for the city.
“Consequences should matter more than the structure of the document,” Gordon said. “This will do some good to prioritize planning.”
Herald said keeping the charter uncluttered and prioritizing planning are both “worthy goals.” However, he cast his vote for the more detailed planning definition in the charter.
“I want to error on the side of emphasizing planning,” Herald said.