Nehalem finally in compliance on ordinance issues

After several years of violating its own planning commission ordinance by not holding monthly meetings, the Nehalem City Council approved a new version recreating the board and allowing it to meet “as business may require.”

By Ann Powers

After several years of violating its own planning commission ordinance by not holding monthly meetings, the Nehalem City Council approved a new version recreating the board and allowing it to meet “as business may require.”

Nehalem Ordinance 2016-03 also allows the city manager, or planning commission chairperson, to call meetings when “there is an application or other item of business submitted for the Commission review and decision.”

Nehalem City Manager Dale Shafer

Previously, it was not specified in writing that the city manager could call meetings.

The council repealed the old planning commission ordinance, reviewed the new draft prepared by Nehalem City Attorney Lois Albright, had two readings of the proposed verbiage, took public comment and unanimously approved the measure in a single meeting on Dec. 12.

“It allows us to meet as needed and demands we meet when necessary,” City Manager Dale Shafer said.

The impetus for Ordinance 2016-03 stems from an Oct. 25 special council-planning commission meeting when Commissioner Lucy Brook asked why the planning commission wasn’t meeting on monthly basis – as required by the city’s ordinance at the time.

“And the result of that now is we’re getting rid of monthly meetings,” Micah White, a Nehalem resident and City of Nehalem Budget Committee member, said at the council’s regular meeting Dec. 12.

Shafer said the old ordinance was written in the 1990s when the city issued all building permits. That task has since been taken over by Tillamook County.

“In 2011 the county took over issuing all permits for the city of Nehalem and at that point and time there was not anything to meet about,” she said. “There’s been exactly one new building permit issued in the City of Nehalem in the last five years. All the growth has been outside city limits and in the county.”

White also expressed concern about the city manager having the authority to schedule planning commission meetings.

Micah White

“I’m intrigued by this idea that the new ordinance gives the position of city manager slightly more power than it had before,” he said. “Should there be a counterposing power for the voters of Nehalem to be able call meetings?”

Shafer said it’s her responsibility to make sure meetings are being held in compliance with city requirements.

“I’ve always let the planning commission know when something has come up and that we need to have a meeting,” she said. “All this does is clarify that.”

Shafer joined the city’s staff as city recorder in August 2011. By December of 2012, she was serving as city manager. And according to city documents, she hasn’t “always” alerted city officials of necessary meetings during her tenure in her current position.

Prior to its recent rewording, the monthly meeting ordinance itself would have required meetings, outside of permit and zoning requests, that didn’t happen on Shafer’s watch. Past agendas and minutes shows Nehalem monthly planning commission meetings have not been scheduled on a regular basis for several years.

The board was in violation each time a meeting was skipped, according to the city attorney.

“Technically, the planning commission would be in violation of its ordinance for not holding public meetings monthly, as per the ordinance establishing it,” she said when the issue surfaced last October.

Furthermore, both the old and new planning commission ordinance states, “At its first meeting of each calendar year, the Commission shall elect a Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson to serve one-year terms.”

City documents show those meetings and elections were not conducted; there have been time periods when meetings were not scheduled within 12 months of each other.

“This election was not done in 2016, 2015 or 2014,” White said in a previous email to the North Coast Citizen. “In fact, it is completely unclear when this happened in the past.”

According to the commission’s minutes and agenda dated April 23, 2014, no regular planning commission meetings were scheduled from July 2012 to March 2014, due to “a lack of business” – even though electing the chair and vice-chair is business the planning commission is required to perform annually.

During that 20-month window the commission did not meet – about 15 of those months were during Shafer’s term as city manager.

The minutes and agenda dated Oct. 28, 2015, states the same for the time period between May 2014 and September 2015 (16 months); as does the June 2, 2016 agenda from November 2015 to June 2016. There have not been regular monthly planning commission meetings since.

In a previous article published in the Citizen, Planning Commission Vice-Chairman John Coopersmith said he’s been on that board for about five years, and the vice chair the past four. He thought there might have been an election last June.

There is no election listed on the June 2, 2016, agenda.

Nehalem Planning Commission Vice Chairman John Coopersmith

Coppersmith also stated regular business for planning commissioners to meet encompasses more than just issuing permits, it includes preparations for the Nehalem Comprehensive Review as well.

Nehalem Comprehensive Plan Procedure Policies, Section 2.020, states: “The Planning Commission and City Council shall review the Comprehensive Plan at least once every five years.”

City officials confirmed the last time the comprehensive plan was reviewed was in 2007. Shafer said a review has been budgeted for 2017 and a timeline will be provided next month – ten years after the last evaluation.

Both City Planner John Morgan and Shafer have said Nehalem is not out of compliance on the comprehensive plan review policy because cities with a population less than 10,000 are only required to do “periodic” reviews, according to Oregon State Land Use Law, Chapter 197.

But, Sadie Carney, of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, said that’s not true. Nehalem’s five-year policy trumps the state’s periodic review stipulation.

“A city’s policy may be more specific, but not less specific, than the relevant state law,” she explained.

Mayor Bill Dillard was absent at the Dec. 12 meeting, but said the new ordinance takes effect immediately due to an emergency clause approved by council with its passage.

The next regular city council meeting is set for 7 p.m., at Nehalem City Hall, 35900 8th St., Jan. 9.