UPDATE: The Charleston Planning Commission's proposed measure regarding the city council's ability to override the planning commission recommendations has been deferred.
The Charleston Planning Commission will meet at 5 p.m. today to discuss a proposed rule change that would make it easier for the city council to overrule the commission on zoning issues.
State law requires that the planning commission votes on zoning with a simple majority. Charleston has a rule that allows the city council to vote on zoning issues if the planning commission votes something down, but it currently needs a 75 percent majority to overturn a decision made by the planning commission.
The city council wants to lower that requirement to a 60 percent majority.
“The situation has gotten out of control,” City Councilman William Moody from Charleston's 11th district recently told Palmetto Business Daily. “At 75 percent, the city council, which is elected by the people, have a harder time overturning a planning commission decision.”
Moody explained that one of the big issues is that members of the planning commission are not elected, they are appointed. If they refuse to do what elected officials request, the city council can fire them and have them replaced.
“We don’t want to have to fire anyone,” Moody said. “There are some good, experienced people on the planning commission with years of experience. It would be a shame to lose them when there are better, more civil solutions. We don’t want to have a blood bath every time we disagree on something.”
Moody further explained that the system has been set up like this for at least 30 years.
“I don’t know why it is set up like that, but it is just plain wrong,” Moody said. “If we have 60 percent, it allows for us to both step back and look at the planning commission’s decision and decide if they made the right decision or not. We are not advocating to vote down everything more easily. At the same time, they have to be held accountable by the people. They currently have unfiltered authority. Where is the accountability in that?”
Moody argues that the current system in place is not reflective of the larger American system of checks and balances, and that 60 percent is not too much to ask.
“I work for the voter,” he said. “If they do not like what I am doing, they can vote me out of office. As unelected officials, there is nothing the taxpayer or voter can do to the members of the planning commission. What we are trying to do is restore the voter’s authority.”
There is much debate from the planning commission over why the city council is asking for more control.
“The planning commission accuses us of grabbing for power,” Moody said. “We don’t see it as grabbing for power. We are simply trying to balance it. We are taking power back to the people who elected the city council members.”