San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 16th, 2008
New city planning arm emerges from staff changes, P&Z purge

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

After months of maneuvering to reorganize the city’s administration and reconstitute the city’s planning and zoning commission (P&Z), a fairly new P&Z operated under transitioning staff direction Tuesday night.

The newly constituted P&Z dealt with no issues of great urgency Tuesday night, except for the new hot-button matter of attendance, which city officials identified as the official reason for much of a September shake-up that ended in the replacement of three commission members.

Observers are waiting to see if a more “business friendly” planning arm will result in San Marcos as the administration seeks to grease the skids for commerce. The mayor, Susan Narvaiz, continues to advocate a more commercially oriented San Marcos, to the consternation of the city’s environmentalists and neighborhood groups.

Narvaiz is up for re-election on Nov. 4 against David Newman, the champion of her opponents, and Daniel McCarthy, a Texas State student who wants the city to emphasize the retention of its local culture.

The administrative shake-up directed by City Manager Rick Menchaca resulted in Cecil Pennington being removed as staff liaison to the P&Z as his title changes from Interim Planning Director to Division Manager of Long-Range Planning. Pennington’s replacement as the P&Z liaison is Chance Sparks, whose title changes from Chief Planner to Division Manager of Development Planning. The “division” in each title refers to the Development Services division of the city administration. The changes went into effect last week.

It remains to be seen who will actually run the development department. Following the re-organization, a vacancy for Director of Planning and Development Services is posted on the city’s website as Director of Development Services.

Sparks praised Pennington as a fine mentor Tuesday night and promised that Pennington will remain deeply involved in the city’s planning. It remains, however, that Sparks will operate at the point of attack when it comes to dealing with developers, builders and the P&Z on pending projects.

Sparks said after Tuesday’s P&Z meeting that the administrative re-organization has been in the works for months, in some sense affecting virtually every city employee.

While Menchaca reshaped the city staff structure in recent months, the city council reconstituted the P&Z through a tortured process that ended with one-third of the board being replaced.

City Attorney Michael Cosentino told The Mercury last month that Ruben Becerra was removed from the P&Z because he didn’t meet attendance requirements. Former P&Z Commissioner Steve Cline, who missed several meetings, refused to even return a questionnaire from the city regarding his qualification to remain on the board and also was removed.

Former commission chair Fred Terry’s ownership of property in San Marcos was unclear at the time and he might have been removed, because the city charter requires that all but one P&Z commissioner must own property in the city, and that other commissioner must own property in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. However, Terry resigned before the city council could remove him and he announced his candidacy for the council seat that will be vacated by Daniel Guerrero. Terry is certain to take that seat, as he has no opposition.

The three commission seats have since been filled by Cecil Pounds, Jim Stark and Allen Shy. Further changes could be coming, as the city council must decide how to handle three expiring terms after the November election. Those whose seats will come up for consideration include Shy, who is filling out an unexpired term. New Chairman Sherwood Bishop’s term also is expiring, as is the term of Commissioner Curtis Seebeck.

Against that backdrop, P&Z commissioners wrestled with setting a new date for their scheduled Nov. 11 meeting, because that date happens to be Veterans Day and the staff will have the day off. As commissioners debated whether to push the meeting to Nov. 12 or Nov. 13, it became clear that the entire board would be unable to meet on either date.

The commission ultimately settled on Nov. 13 and determined that if any commissioners could not attend, those absences would be excused. However, as attendance suddenly is on the table as means of replacing commissioners, the topic didn’t end there.

Seebeck suggested that the P&Z minutes note whether absences are excused or unexcused. Seebeck said it’s not good enough for a commissioner’s absence to be excused informally by the chairman because it’s too burdensome to document when the commissioner’s attendance is called into question.

“As we saw with the last round of commissioners, I saw them have to go back three or four months to see if their absences were excused, and it’s kind of difficult to do,” Seebeck said. “I’d like to have it as part of the record. That way, there’s no arguing or fighting or having to prove anything to the city council.”

Sparks said noting on the minutes whether absences are excused or not “would be reasonable.”

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One thought on “New city planning arm emerges from staff changes, P&Z purge

  1. i guess the city is just going to tell anyone who wants to replace san marcos with strip malls will be told to go ahead and hack away at it.

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