There are times when a governing body has to step in and countermand a decision by its staff. Times when the evidence refutes the logic of the front-line personnel and the ultimate decision-makers must weigh in.
Tuesday was not one of those times in the case of the Crow Wing County Board and the zoning map amendment fee refund requested by Laurel Price Jones. On that day, the board intervened, went against the recommendations of its staff and potentially opened up a can of worms involving people who aren't happy with advice they were possibly given by planning and zoning employees in the past two decades or so.
Let's recap the board's action this week in the refund request by Laurel Price Jones. Jones asked for a refund based on feeling misled by a conversation with a planning and zoning employee 17 years ago. The board's county attorney, land services director and county administrator all stated that a refund was not justified. The board voted 3-2 to refund half the amount or $250. Commissioner Paul Thiede in his motion indicated there seemed to be some degree of complicity on the county's part. Voting yes on the motion were Commissioners Thiede, Rachel Reabe Nystrom and Doug Houge. Voting no were Commissioner Phil Trusty and Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen.
The county board set a horrible precedent with this vote. Neither staff nor Jones were able to offer any sort of documentation that the county was responsible for giving bad advice or any sort of advice at all. There was no evidence at all, other than one person's stated recollection of a 17-year-old conversation.
While the board might have been motivated by a desire to placate an unhappy customer it strikes us a certain level of consistency is necessary in order to treat all parties fairly. The board's decision to cave in to this county resident on the flimsiest semblance of proof will likely spur other aggrieved planning and zoning customers to seek refunds. The decision also could create a morale problem for conscientious county employees who now wonder if their decisions will be backed up by the board.
Sure, one could argue, the board made the problem go away for a relatively small expenditure. It's always easy to be generous with someone else's money.
We join those who would argue the board's decision was ill-founded and short-sighted. County residents have the right to expect better of their county board.
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