Thursday, July 2, 2020

Council considers appointment to zoning board

Adding a member of the city council to the Zoning Board of Appeals in Romulus isn't as simple as it might seem.
During the electronic regular meeting of the council last week, several elected officials were in favor of adding Councilwoman Kathy Abdo to the five-member board, but after a great deal of discussion, settled for taking the action when the next regular term on the board expires. That date will be reported to the council at their next meeting, according to City Clerk Ellen Craig-Bragg who explained to the council members that she did not have that exact date readily at hand.
Abdo explained at the meeting that she had brought this issue up eight months ago and there has still been no action regarding her request to have a council member be appointed to the board. She told the board members repeatedly that someone from the elected body should be on the Zoning Board of Appeals which regulates zoning within the Romulus boundaries and has the power to authorize exceptions to the zoning regulations by a majority vote.
“I realize it is not required by the charter,” Abdo said, “but it is necessary to have a member of the council on the ZBA for transparency.”  She noted that while the charter “does not speak to it, it is not prohibited. We need someone from the council,” she said.
Councilwoman Eva Webb was strongly in favor of taking the action and placing Abdo on the board and encouraged her colleagues to make the appointment despite the caution from city attorney Steve Hitchcock who reminded the council that the charter provides for five voting members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and while it does not prohibit the appointment of a councilperson, it does not allow for six voting members.
Webb suggested that Abdo be appointed to the board as a non-voting member, but Abdo explained that a non-voting member “sitting and observing and not voting isn't going to be effective in representing the people of Romulus.”

Councilman Williams Wadsworth asked which of the current members would then have to be eliminated as the terms of two re-appointments to the board and one alternate were on the meeting agenda.
Webb responded that they didn't have to take anyone off, they could all remain on board. She said that the council did not currently know what is going on at the ZBA and that if the council had a representative on the board, the flow of information would be greatly improved. 
“I didn't think she wanted to be a voting member, I thought she wanted to be there to inform her colleagues,” Webb said when Hitchcock explained the charter provisions. Abdo said that currently members of the council do not have a vote in the actions of the Zoning Board of Appeals actions. “They vote and once they make a decision, it is final,” she said. “The ZBA has the final say on variances.”
Following a suggestion that the city attorney research the issue, Craig-Bragg reminded the council members that there were three expiring terms and that the ZBA had a meeting scheduled July 1, making immediate action on the reappointments necessary.
Wadsworth reminded the council members that decisions at the ZBA could be appealed to Wayne County Circuit Court and that could lead to a conflict of interest were the city to become embroiled in litigation.
“I have no problem putting a council member on the ZBA,” he said. “Let's look into it, but we can't solve this in the middle of people's terms.”
He suggested that the council approve the reappointments of July Alison and Emery Long to the Zoning Board of Appeals with terms to expire in 2023 and that John Clark be appointed as an alternate to the ZBA, his term expiring in 2022.
Council members agreed to that motion by unanimous vote with Councilwoman Celeste Roscoe absent.
During discussion of the motion, Abdo suggested that when the next term expires on the ZBA, a member of the council be appointed. The council unofficially agreed to that suggestion and Craig-Bragg said she would provide the date of that next term expiration at the next council meeting.