Monday, December 30, 2013

Time To Step Up

Norristown's government has announced that they're looking for residents who'll serve in volunteer positions on the Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board. Now, before you say, no way, not for me, read on and see why we need you to at least help us find good people for these posts.

I heard this weekend that one person who won't be serving on the Zoning Board is Brian Billings. Brian was the chair of the Zoning Board this past year and completely earned my respect. He asked good questions, he listened to residents' concerns, he even made it a point to personally thank residents who testified at meeting. I thought he did his best to be fair to all parties, yet didn't allow variances freely. If he and the board saw a solution that still remained true to the zoning, they insisted on it. They came up with some decent compromises, too. I can't say I agreed with them on all their decisions, but I have to admit, I TRUSTED the 2013 Zoning Board to act in the best interests of Norristown.

This weekend I heard that Brian, for all the good he did and wisdom he showed on the Zoning Board, isn't being invited back. He's essentially been dismissed. (See Brian's comment below.)

So, Norristown says they're looking for residents to serve, while dismissing someone who was good at the job, and good for the town? I have to wonder if the Council and our new town manager, Mr. Jones, aren't simply looking for a way to stack the deck--get rid of intelligent people who think things out, follow the zoning and can't be easily swayed, only to replace them with pawns.

You'll remember our Planning Commission this past summer and fall, who could barely get quorums at their meetings? Who actually passed the over-crowded development at 1202 Dekalb illegally, WITHOUT a quorum, despite the fact that the developer changed her drawings (for the worse) every time she showed up at a meeting, so that, still, no one knows what the townhouses will look like. Council went on to give that developer $150,000 of taxpayer money to ease the overcrowding SLIGHTLY--a problem that SHOULD have been solved at the Planning meetings before they even brought the proposal up for a vote.

You remember the Pennrose proposal for a low-income apartment house on the corner of Dekalb and Airy, horrendously inappropriate to the historical area and Arts Hill zoning? Despite a storm of protests by residents and 1800 signatures on petitions against the development, Pennrose sailed through the approval process and were about to come up to the final vote before Council when their funding was denied by the state. Think it ends there? Norristown hasn't taken the application of their books yet. Pennrose could very well reapply in 2014.

And plans are already in the works to demolish another old Art Deco style building--Montgomery Hospital.

So we NEED good, sensible people on the Zoning Board and Planning Commission--people who'll represent Norristown's future, and not simply do whatever Crandall Jones and certain council members tell them to do. The Planning Commission meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month. The Zoning Board meets the 4th Tuesday.

Send letters of interest, as well as your resumé and/or qualifications, and which board you're interested in to:   

Mr. Crandall Jones, Administrator
Municipality of Norristown
235 East Airy St.
Norristown, PA 19401

Am I going to apply? I'm thinking about it. Problem is, if I'm ON one of the boards, I can't report about it objectively here on the Diary. It's equally vital that the residents of Norristown are kept informed, and maybe this is a better niche for me to serve the community. But I'll at least do my best to help find good people for these positions. We all need to. Stop complaining about your government and do something to fix it.

1 comment:

  1. From Brian Billings (I apologize that I got his reasons for leaving wrong. I went with secondhand information and I shouldn't have.).

    Elena, Thank you for your thoughtful involvement and journalism. We need more people doing what you are doing in Norristown: raising important issues and holding folks accountable. However, I am uncomfortable with your characterization of my departure from the Zoning Board as having "been dismissed". This is simply not accurate, as it implies that some person or persons "dismissed" me, by omission or otherwise. For the record, I want you to know that I made the decision not to seek a new term on the board, for my own reasons, personal and professional. I have been honored and privileged to serve on the Zoning Board for almost eight years, and for the past four years as chair. I enjoyed serving and think that, occasionally, I was able to make a bit of a difference for the good. I am confident that the Board will continue to serve this community with integrity and diligence going forward. best wishes, Brian Billings