Marion’s Board of Zoning Appeals last week rejected City Administrator Doug Kjellin’s decision to amend a permit to allow construction of a communications tower at the new county jail.
They did so after deliberating behind closed doors, which because they were considering an appeal wasn’t a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, according to an attorney general’s opinion. I’ve written in this space recently about going above and beyond the dictates of the open meetings act to provide sincerely transparent government, so I won’t revisit that discussion.
But where do the county and city go from here? There is only one place to start: the beginning. Now the county commission has to decide what it wants to do about a communications tower. The Board of Zoning Appeals suggested considering a different tower design that would meet zoning regulations or appealing to Marion City Council for a revision of zoning regulations that would allow the tower.
If the issue had been addressed to the appropriate board to begin with, that conclusion could have been reached much earlier, and the county could have a month or more of progress toward resolution. Instead, an attempt to smooth over the issue caused a ruckus that took considerable time and ended up with everything back at square one. Lots of time was wasted because a few people got in a hurry and tried to skip the established and codified process.
The Board of Zoning Appeals deserves congratulations for doing its job in the face of controversy and protestations that the county needs a tower and had no other way to get it. No matter how important a communications tower might be, it isn’t important enough to trample due process of law.
The new jail isn’t the reason we need a new tower, although we do need one. The county could connect the current tower to the new jail and continue to use the existing transmitters. But the existing tower doesn’t adequately reach emergency workers in all parts of the county, and that is why a new tower is needed. The new jail is simply a good opportunity to make the change.
This process was another lesson that it is better to follow the right steps when working on something important rather than rushing it.
— ADAM STEWART