The Carthage City Council does not have the authority to nullify a vote on a “Certificate of Appropriateness,” issued by the Planning, Zoning and Historic Preservation Commission.
Carthage Mayor Mike Harris said a vote by the council on a motion by Council Member Ed Hardesty to nullify the Commission's approval of an electronic LED sign for the Grace Episcopal Church would not stand.
“The City Attorney, after reviewing the issue, finds the city correct in asking for a revisit to the Episcopal Church sign request,” Harris wrote in a letter to council members and city staff. “He (the city attorney) did add that it could have been done cleaner.”
Harris said the city codes lay out the reasons for reconsideration and allow the chairman or vice chairman of the planning and zoning commission to call a meeting for any reason they feel necessary.
The Mayor said Father Steve Wilson, pastor of the church, has been told he could proceed with installing the sign and the commission's decision will stand.
At Tuesday's Carthage City Council meeting, Ron Petersen Jr., secretary of the Planning, Zoning and Historic Preservation Commission, criticized the planning and zoning commission and Harris for bringing back to the commission on Monday a proposal by the church to install an electronic sign in an existing stone frame after the same request had been voted down 3-1 in the August meeting of the commission.
Petersen said the church should have followed the procedure set in the ordinances and appealed the August decision to the City Council.
Instead, Harris asked Planning, Zoning and Historic Preservation chairman Harry Rogers to have the Commission take a second look at the issue. Harris said he asked the commission to look at it again because the church representatives had been told in August they didn't have to attend the meeting.
The vote at Monday's planning commission meeting was 3-2 to allow the sign.
At the end of Tuesday's Council meeting during the council's round-table discussion period, Hardesty made a motion to reverse the Planning Commission's vote. In a voice vote, all seven council members present said yes to the motion, except for Council Member Kirby Newport who abstained because he is a member of the church.
Harris criticized the vote by the council in his letter announcing the city attorney's opinion.
“I have been approached by some of the (city) staff who take exception to the unreasonable allegations made by a citizen questioning how the city is being run, going way beyond the sign issue, as do I,” Harris wrote. “It is unfortunate that the council joined in.”
Hardesty defended his motion and the action of the Council.
“I'm not apologizing about the steps we took,” Hardesty told The Press. “I still believe it was proper to make the motion. I believe we should follow the rules and I wish everyone else did too.”