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Double-dealing at the Sparks Planning Commission
by Ira Hansen
Jan 27, 2008 | 865 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Having been a watchdog on government for a long time, few events totally surprise me. But there are exceptions. After having personally testified before the Sparks Planning Commission on Dec. 6 in opposition to yet another Harvey Whittemore-sponsored butchery of the region's master plan, the planning commission voted 3-3 to delay the amendment.

So, case closed. According to the Sparks City Staff, such master plan amendment applications, if rejected, can be resubmitted and are accepted on a quarterly basis. Therefore, March 6 would have been the soonest it would come up again.

So, when we went to a "neighborhood meeting" put on by Whittemore's people on Jan. 7, we were shocked to learn the planning commission would be re-hearing their case on Jan. 17 — far earlier than expected.

Not only that, but the Whittemore proposal had been entirely revamped. We basically had to start all over, with only 10 days to do all the research and prepare.

I was mystified until I got a copy of the minutes from the Dec. 6 Sparks Planning Commission Meeting. It turns out that After the public had left the meeting, after the public vote on the amendment, the commissioners, using a "parliamentary procedure," moved to "reconsider" the amendment.

So, after the public left, the commission basically reversed itself and gave the Whittemore people a green light, directing city staff to refine the proposal and bring it back, not in March as the public had been told, but in January.

This is a blatant abuse of the public's right of participation. Such back-door government is exactly why so many see every government action as a conspiracy against them.

After a mad scramble, we again on Jan. 17 presented our case in opposition to Whittemore's bizarre changes.

At the very start of the meeting, I formally requested a delay until March 6 for the above reasons. The Planning Commission did not so much acknowledge my request. The public be damned was the unspoken but clear message to all present. The deck is already heavily in favor of Whittemore. They have unlimited time to present their proposal and the city staff to help them, while we are limited to three minutes a person.

However, we had done our homework and, after the testimony of many in opposition, the city attorney recommended the matter be delayed until the March 6 meeting to allow the city staff time to basically rebut our views.

Ironically, this time change was exactly what I had proposed at the start of the meeting.

The delay was granted (the right person had asked). The meeting was "continued" until March 6 — another parliamentary trick — allowing city staff to refute our evidences, but will not allow any public comment.

So, March 6 is the big day, right? Everyone in various neighborhoods affected think so, and so did I.

But I received a disturbing call on Friday afternoon (Jan. 25). Leaving a message on my cell phone, a city staffer bluntly told me the city was going to get the meeting changed once again, to Feb. 21. I could call him, but expect a "notice" to be legally posted.

This will do nothing but further confuse the public and keep participation to a minimum. Perhaps that is the intent. Is it any wonder the citizens feel alienated? The remarkably muddy waters of Sparks city government just got a little filthier.

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.
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