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COLA seeks to invalidate late year appointments to Planning Commission

Dan Kittilson

Members of COLA are questioning the legality of appointments made to the Planning Commission, contending they violated two county ordinances.

The lake organization wants the county to invalidate the 2012 appointments of John Miller and Dennis Bessler.

Miller was appointed in September to fill out the remaining term of Bob Ruhnke. That term was set to expire at the end of 2012.

Bessler was appointed last month. Both he and Miller are "at large" members of the commission.

COLA representatives contend both men's terms expired at the end of 2012. If so, Bessler would never have served a day of his appointment.

Newly appointed county board chairman Cal Johannsen asked to refer the matter to the county attorney.

"If we did something wrong, we need to make it right," he told the board. But he also noted it has been the practice of the board seated at yearend to make appointments to various sub-boards. Then, after the new county board member has had a year to settle into the job, they are free to make their own choice to the Board of Adjustment or Planning Commission.

A letter written Jan. 4 by COLA president Dan Kittilson and sent to the board asked that the appointments be rescinded and that the newly seated board make the decisions.

Otherwise, Kittilson said new county board members Dan Stacey and Matt Dotta "were disenfranchised" because they were not in office to make appointments from their own districts.

County Attorney Don Dearstyne said he could not comment on the appointments until after he'd completed his legal review, but noted both outgoing commissioners Lyle Robinson and Dick Devine were still in office when the appointments were made. Their terms expired Jan. 7.

The Coalition of Lake Associations has been closely monitoring the activities and boards emanating from the county's Environmental Services Office for nearly three years and frequently been at loggerheads with the county over planning or variance decisions made.

As a result, there has been regular turnover on those boards as citizen board members tire of being browbeaten at meetings COLA members maintain they simply want the board to follow the laws and ordinances..

Board of Adjustment member Earl Benson left in November. His colleague Charles Knight, voluntarily retired when Knight's appointing commissioner, Robinson, was defeated for re-election by Stacey in November.

COLA members have been sticklers for abiding by the ordinances. But they also want to influence the choices made, to get environmentally conscious stewards on the boards that oversee lakeshore development.

Two members of the Planning Commission have resigned or retired and a third member, Tim Johnson, was appointed to the Board of Adjustment.

Kittilson did not return a call seeking comment by press time Friday.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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