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Council approves planning appointments

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | December 26, 2021 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A request to delay a vote on four appointments to the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission ended in a split vote before the tie was broken with a vote by Mayor Shelby Rognstad to move forward.

Nominated to the board were Amelia Boyd, Luke Omodt, Ben McGrann and John Hastings, the existing vice chairman who was nominated for reappointment.

During the consent agenda, typically approved without comment, Councilman Joel Aispuro asked for the appointments to be tabled until the next council meeting, saying more time was needed to review all applications — not just those who had been nominated by Rognstad.

The request was not a reflection of those nominated, but stemmed from a desire to make the best decision, to have the best people on the commission given the magnitude of decision the board faces on housing, zoning and affordability, Aispuro said. He wanted, he added, to have confidence in the council's decision.

Prior to the council meeting, Aispuro said he'd been contacted by several candidates expressing an interest in serving. Without seeing all of the applications, on the face of it, he said those individuals seemed extremely qualified and would be an asset on the commission.

"So I just wanted to make sure that I did my due diligence to know who I was voting for, or at least the options and with a clear conscience right now, it's not to say these won't be the four," he said. "I have the utmost respect for each person named on there. Very much so. But so it had nothing to do with them as who they are, more of I want a clear conscience knowing that this is the path forward for the next years. And we're going to have some big decisions coming up."

Saying it was a fair question, Rognstad said city policy only allows one non-city resident to serve on the board at a time. One of the candidates he nominated for the commission fit that criteria and was, in his opinion, the better choice.

With one of those stepping down from the commission being a woman, Rognstad said he felt was essential that that perspective be maintained. The second candidate has experience in development and development management, key issues facing the community. As to the third candidate, the mayor said that individual demonstrated interest and dedication to the city, both in attending meetings and running for the council in the past election.

Committee and commission appointments are mayoral in nature, with the council tasked with affirmation of those decisions, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said. While past practice has been to only forward applications of those nominated by the mayor in office at the time, Stapleton said all applications could be provided if the council moved forward with tabling approval.

A vote to table the appointment drew a three-three tie with Councilwoman Shannon Sherman, Councilman John Darling and Aispuro all voting in favor of the motion. Voting against were Councilwoman Kate McAlister, Councilwoman Deb Ruehle and Councilman Andy Groat. Rognstad voted against the motion to break the tie.

A vote to approve the appointments followed with Groat, Sherman, McAlister and Ruehle voted in favor. Darling and Aispuro voted against.

In total, 18 people submitted an application to the volunteer board and Rognstad said he interviewed eight of the candidates.

"The decision as to who would fill these seats was challenging, but certainly a good problem to have," the mayor said. "I sincerely appreciate each and every one of the applications received, and the desire by each of those applicants to want to serve our community in this capacity."

Saying he wanted to "linger" on the number of applications submitted, Rognstad said he'd never before seen such a response to a city committee, especially from such highly qualified candidates. While a challenging decision to make, it was a pleasure to have such a choice of candidates, he added.

"So we're really fortunate as a city to be well served by a public that's really engaged," Rognstad said. "And I'm really excited to see the public, engaging the civic process."

Before announcing his appointments, Rognstad praised those leaving the commission, Cate Huisman and Tom Riggs, saying the pair's "generous service" to the community was appreciated.

"Serving as planning and zoning commissioner is a volunteer commitment, and not an easy endeavor," Rognstad said in thanking the pair, as well as Jason Welker, who is stepping down after being elected to the Sandpoint City Council. "The time and effort expended by all of these individuals is commendable, and we thank them for their generous service to our community."

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