Monday, August 07, 2017

Weekly blows whistle when zoning panel uses secret ballot in bid to rezone for big coal mine

McLean County, Kentucky
(Wikipedia map)
Here's a lesson about how a rural newspaper rightly stuck to its guns and insisted on transparency from a local board that wanted to shield at least one of its members from scrutiny.

The Joint Planning Commission in McLean County, Kentucky, voted 7-1 by secret ballot June 20 to rezone 270 acres to industrial for a coal mine, but the McLean County News challenged the vote, saying it had violated Kentucky's Open Meetings Act, "which requires that public agencies keep accurate records of all votes and actions," Stephanie Salmons reports for the News, owned by Paxton Media Group.

Commission Chair Nancy Wetzel denied that any action had taken place in the meeting, but County Attorney Donna Dant confirmed that the vote did take place, but that it "did not carry the weight of law, because it did not accompany a written description of the zoning change or a map outlining the change to scale." That gave Wetzel an excuse to hold a new meeting with a public vote to avoid "any appearance of impropriety."

The coal company, Hartshorne Mining Group of Australia, obligingly filed an amendment with a legal description of the property. On July 20 the commission met again and voted 7-1 to recommend the zoning change; the lone dissenter was revealed to be commission member Tom Howard; he declined to comment on why he does not support the rezoning. The McLean County Fiscal Court, the county's legislative body, which approved first reading of the zone-change ordinance 4-0. Salmons told The Rural Blog that the fiscal court approved the zone change 4-0 on Aug. 4.

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