Macon planning board uproar subsides

Planning board members in Macon County this week voted against a plan that would have seen their group expand from 11 to 13.

“I sat on a board once that had 25 people, the chairman had to break us out into subgroups that reported back to the main board,” Lewis Penland, chairman of the planning board, said in explanation. “With this many people it was very hard to get anything accomplished.”

Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale suggested the expansion. It was Beale’s attempt to mend fences after three of his board colleagues — Republicans Brian McClellan, Jim Davis and Democrat Bob Simpson — voted an anti-planning advocate onto the planning board.

The appointment of Jimmy Goodman, a Tea Party member who helped found the local chapter Freedom Works and a former planning board member others once asked be removed for bad behavior, came at the expense of Al Slagle. This longtime board member, who oversees the controversial steep slope subcommittee, was up for routine re-appointment when he was instead abruptly dumped.

The steep slope subcommittee is studying whether Macon County needs to enact building regulations for development on mountaintops and mountainsides. A series of natural and manmade landslides have plagued Macon County in recent years, including the 1994 Peeks Creek disaster that claimed five lives.

McClellan and Davis (who is heading to the state Senate) apologized to fellow commissioners Beale and Bobby Kuppers for surprising them with their votes for Goodman. The two Republicans also made personal apologies to Slagle. They did not, however, back down from the appointment of Goodman, citing a need for more diversity of thought on the planning board. Simpson, who is no longer a commissioner anyway following his ousting by voters during the midterm election, stopped short of apologizing for how the matter was handled. He did acknowledge Slagle had been badly treated in a very public manner.

The mea culpas and Simpson’s non-mea culpa to fellow Democrats came during a special called meeting earlier this month. More than 100 Macon County residents packed the boardroom for this special meeting, forcing commissioners to shift over to a courtroom.

Slagle, if he chooses, can continue serving as head of the planning board’s steep slope subcommittee despite now being officially off the planning board, said fellow member Lamar Sprinkle. Additionally, the terms of several board members — including Sprinkle — are ending in a matter of months. Possibly Slagle could take one of those slots if he even wants back on the planning board, Sprinkle said this week.

Goodman, contacted by telephone at his home and cabinet-making business, didn’t have a lot to say about the uproar triggered by his rejoining the planning board.

“I’m glad to be on the planning board and I’m going to do the best job I can,” he said. “I’m not going to get involved in that political stuff.”

That seems to be the consensus of the planning board at this juncture. Get along best they can, and get to work on the business of planning.

“I think this storm might die down and everything will be alright,” Sprinkle said. “I want to work with everyone on there, and come up with whatever is best for the county. It is what we all want to do, and I think everybody realizes this needs to be put behind us.”

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