By Leota Harriman
What seemed like it would be a quiet meeting for what has become a contentious public body erupted into disagreement last week, as one Torrance County Commissioner insisting that the county didn’t follow its own policy in replacing a member of its planning and zoning board.
At issue was a position on the planning and zoning commission which expired at the end of June. At that time, planning and zoning director Steve Guetschow told the commission that one of the members, Bill Larsen, had put in a letter of interest stating that he would like to serve a second term.
“I want to exercise my right to choose,” said Commissioner Julia DuCharme.
“You don’t have a right to choose,” countered Guetschow. “The commission as a board does.”
DuCharme insisted that when Larsen’s term expired, that the commission should at that point have voted on his replacement. Guetschow said he brought Larsen’s letter of intent to serve a second term, which is all the county has ever asked him to do.
“I suggest you read the board member policy,” he told DuCharme.
“His second term wasn’t approved by the commission,” DuCharme said. “Fellow commissioners, I’m asking you to support me in advertising the position. I still believe his second term needed approval by the commission.”
“The way I see it has been done, a commissioner may approach someone from your district,” said Commissioner Jim Frost. “They give their desire then the board votes on that.”
When a term expires, “the board member can reapply and anyone else can, too,” said Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria.
Guetschow said for the past five years, “When they’re [term limited] out, then we advertise.” He said he did not advertise the position because Larsen was between his first and second terms on the board.
“If it is automatic, it is not fair,” DuCharme insisted.
“You keep saying you want to exercise your right,” Guetschow said. “Where in the policy does it give you a right?” He said each commissioner can recommend names, then the commission votes as a body on the replacement.
After more back and forth about the policy, DuCharme made a motion to remove Larsen from the planning and zoning commission and open the position to interested residents. Her motion died without a second from Frost or Candelaria.
The policy that Guetschow referred to says that vacancies on the board will first be filled by the alternate to the board, with a new alternate then to be appointed.
“The vacancy shall be advertised in the lcoal newspaper and posted in County facilities,” the policy continues. “The County Commission shall provide for a reasonable time for interested people to submit a letter of interest … The Commission is not required to make board appointments from those submitting letters of interest but all Board members must nevertheless prepare and submit a letter of interest listing all pertinent qualifications.”
The policy does not address a board member rolling over to a second term without being reappointed by the commission at the expiration of his or her first term.
Guetschow explained later that he thought his June report informing the commission of Larsen’s intention met the guidelines his department has been following for years. He also said it is difficult to recruit people to serve on the planning and zoning commission, and that currently “we have a great board.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]