The Southern Pines Appearance Commission held a rather "fiery" meeting in the Boyd Room at 180 Broad St. SW on February 14, 2012. The meeting began about 4:10 P.M. after all of the Appearance Commission members who were coming had arrived as well as the Town Council, Mayor, Town Manager, and other town staff.
Most of this meeting was consumed by controversy and disagreement among the existing Appearance Commission members and the Town Council. You can listen to the exchange in the video of the entire meeting posted below. Before I comment, let's review a bit of history to put this in context for those who have not followed the issue.
The issue has been "bubbling" since at least last September, 2011, based on this letter
dated September 19, 2011. As stated in the letter, (paraphrasing) although qualified Southern Pines residents had duly applied to serve on the Appearance Commission, the Appearance Commission had never reviewed those applications because the members whose terms were about to expire wished to serve for another term.
You see, it seems the Appearance Commission has been allowed to operate on its own for a very long time by past Town Councils. There were never any term limits -- as on all the other Southern Pines boards and commissions -- so the members of the Appearance Commission simply stayed on as long as they wished. If one of them resigned or moved away, the Appearance Commission members themselves selected the replacement candidate. So they expected to maintain this closed environment again this time around.
However, the Town Council was again presented the decision in January, 2012
, whether to reappoint the existing members as proposed by the Appearance Commission or to appoint new members in order to refresh and expand community representation on the Commission by appointing residents who had applied to serve on this body.
The Town Council wisely decided to appoint new members to replace those whose terms were expiring. And the Town Council wisely decided to implement term limits
for the Appearance Commission congruent with the term limits which apply to all other Southern Pines governance bodies.
A number of the old members of the Appearance Commission "went ballistic". You will hear the outgoing Chairman read a letter that was sent by the Appearance Commission to the Mayor and Town Council. You will hear a number of statements and bitter accusations made by certain members of the Appearance Commission during the meeting. The facts do not bear up the protestations of these members.
Now for my observation and commentary: This is a "textbook" example of what happens when incumbents are allowed to stay in position for far too long and to operate without adequate oversight of elected officials. They become arrogant and they develop a strong sense that they are "entitled" to their office. They begin to revel in their power and to desire more power and authority. You can clearly hear this attitude expressed in this video. It is ugly. This Appearance Commission was obviously in need of reform. It needs transparency and exposure to the broader public in both participation and input.
You will hear the long term members express how only they know best for the town and only they know who is best to sit on the Appearance Commission. This is simply not true. You will hear how our elected officials should leave them alone and allow them to function "independently". You will hear how much they resent interference by our elected officials. When you hear a board or commission strive to be insulated from accountability to the elected officials and from the public, you know there is trouble. When you hear members of a governing body expressing that only they are expert enough, only they know best, only they are qualified to rule over us, you know there is trouble.
Thanks be to our Mayor and Town Council for bringing overdue and much needed reforms to the Southern Pines Appearance Commission. We made a wise choice at the ballot box this last November, for sure!