Madison County commissioners are pondering the creation of a “citizens’ advisory board” to help the group gather information on major developments in the county.

However, more details will need to be ironed out before the BOC might approve the group, such as when will it be called upon and who will serve on it?

Drago Tesanovich, co-chair of the Madison County Clean Power Coalition (MCCPC), has presented the idea to the commissioners and addressed the group again Monday.

“As our county grow, the impact of that growth must be clearly understood to assure that decisions on development are based on the current information being made available to our policy makers,” said Tesanovich.

He said a citizens advisory board (CAB) can examine proposed developments and provide advice and information by performing independent research to form recommendations to the BOC, industrial authority and planning commission.

“We must be sure we know the advantages and disadvantages of all development in the county before approval for them is given,” said Tesanovich. “A CAB is not a policy-setting board. Their purpose is to help other boards create policies that are fair to everyone.”

Tesanovich urged the BOC to set up a committee to establish the advisory board, determining the size of the group, who would serve and for how long, when meetings will be held and other details.

District 2 commissioner Terry Chandler asked Tesanovich how the group would have the expertise needed for the advisory role.

“When you’re talking about environmental impact information, you’re talking about an area that’s going to require expertise, so how do you define the level of expertise the board member would have or how they would achieve it and what would make them more capable of gathering that information and doing that research than say someone already sitting on the planning commission or someone on the IDA?” asked Chandler.

Tesanovich said the IDA and zoning board do a good job.

“But they have a lot going on,” he said. “And an independent group could take time to do research and get that back to them. With each issue, we would seek out experts who could provide the correct information.”

He added: “On that board, we may have an opinion, but it’s not necessarily anyone’s personal opinion, it’s more just gathering enough facts so all of you or the IDA or planning and zoning could look at those facts and make a rational decision that best reflects the interests of the county.”

District 4 commissioner Brian Kirk said an advisory board would need to have people from a variety of backgrounds. Kirk and other board members seemed to share the concern that an advisory board could be arbitrarily activated to investigate particular proposals, but not others, presenting a lack of fairness in how the group actions were applied. Kirk said it’s important to establish clear triggers on when the advisory board would be called on to provide information.

District 1 commissioner Dennis Adams said he prefers the idea of an advisory board for policy discussions, but he wasn’t sure about such a group for specific proposals.

“If they (planning and zoning) make a review (of an application), I think we’ve entrusted them with that when they bring it to the table,” said Adams. “I could probably endorse a citizens advisory committee in the development of policy. But getting right down into individual cases, that would have to be a little better defined.”

BOC chairman Todd Higdon said he doesn’t foresee many instances when an advisory board would be needed, adding that Georgia Renewable Power may have been the only instance in 20 years an advisory board would have been called upon. (GRP actually needed no public hearings before locating in Madison County since the property was already zoned for industrial use).

Higdon said he’d like to see commissioners, as well as IDA and planning and zoning members present what they’d like to see out of an advisory board.

“How could this support you? When do you want to see it done?” said Higdon. “And then build you a structure so you know what you’re going after when you look for help (from the advisory board).”

The group agreed to hold more discussion on the matter at a later date.

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