Friday, June 10, 2011

CITY HALL CONFRONTS: Planning pandemonium allegations

Tensions high but staff not stalling, planning director says
COLUMBIA, 6/10/11  (Beat Byte) -- City of Columbia planning director Tim Teddy (left) acknowledged insider allegations that conflict and ill-will have embroiled members of two city-chartered planning groups:  the Columbia Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission and the Comprehensive Plan Task Force.  But Teddy disagrees with characterizations that city staff administrators are stalling group efforts to formulate a comprehensive growth and development plan. 
Next to the City Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission is Columbia's most important governing body, moving city projects forward big and small.  The Comprehensive Plan Task Force is working with P&Z to form an overall planning guide for future growth.  While dissent is grand in democratic governance, personality wars, especially at such a high level, are counterproductive. 

"Regarding the theme of your article, in-fighting, our leaders -- the chairpersons -- acknowledge the personal differences and are trying to move past them," Teddy told the Columbia Heart Beat.  "I realize that all participants, whether volunteers or staff, feel accountable for both the process and the result, and that we as staff need to be more sensitive to that.  I am available to hear complaints and criticism, including any directed at me personally (preferably not through the media)."
Tensions between P&Z Commissioners and city administrators have also increased in recent weeks, Teddy confirmed. 
As a high-level source earlier told the Columbia Heart Beat, staff development liaison Patrick Zenner, who represents City Hall before the Planning and Zoning Commission, "did walk out of a P&Z Commission work session as the result of a disagreement with a Commissioner, and perhaps feelings that carried over from a similar exchange between the two at a meeting the night before," Teddy explained.  "Mr. Zenner explained his actions to Commissioners and apologized at the next meeting.  It is not representative behavior and we have moved on." 
Conflicting ideas about how to administer a planning commission Facebook page have also added to mounting tensions.  "We took some heat recently because staff raised questions regarding administration of the Facebook page," Teddy told the Heart Beat.  But he refused to characterize the conflict as a stalling tactic, as a source had earlier characterized it.  "Questions about how to handle public information, who updates the page, and how it should be used should not be taken as obstructionism," he explained. 
Finally, Teddy took issue with our source's allegation that City staff are blocking efforts to construct a comprehensive plan.  "It is anyone's right to say that, of course, but whatever we may be doing, it is not intended to harm the effort to deliver a plan," Teddy said.  "It is not only our professional responsibility to help deliver the plan, but it also makes us more effective and consistent in the way we do our jobs when we operate according to a plan."

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