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Not enough commissioners at the table

It's tough to do any planning if the minimum number of commissioners don't show up for a meeting.

Such was the case for the Afton Planning Commission when it was forced to cancel its Feb. 2 meeting because it failed to have a quorum.

Three members of the normally nine-person commission -- chairman Jim Fox, Barbara Ronningen and Richard Bend -- attended the meeting.

And since the commission currently only has seven members, a quorum would have been four.

The commission was forced to reschedule a public hearing regarding a conditional use application for the River Valley Riders, a therapeutic riding facility, for Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. -- to the consternation of several residents who came out for the hearing.

"To make the effort to come down and then not be able to do that, that has to be frustrating," Fox said. "But what can you do."

The absent members included Patty Chalupa, who was ill, a vacationing Anne Knutson, Don Holzmer and Greg Pennella -- who recently resigned.

Mayor Pat Snyder was at the meeting as well, and expressed her feelings over the cancellation.

"I am most disappointed that the planning commission meeting had to be continued, due to lack of a quorum," she said. " Not only was it an inconvenience to those who were present for the public hearing on the River Valley Rider's CUP application and others who were in attendance, but it was costly to the city in terms of staff."

This wasn't the first time the commission was forced to cancel a meeting because of a too-small headcount. Fox said it's a situation that's been happening more frequently over the last year.

"I don't think it's anything systematic that's happening," he said. "Most of them have legitimate excuses. It is a volunteer position and family things need to come first, so I don't really fault anyone for not making the meetings."

Fox added he knows of several commissioners who are becoming increasingly "burnt-out" from the meetings and the contentious nature of them.

"I don't think anyone is intentionally just staying away," he said, "I think if anyone was that turned off, they would resign."

That burn-out or the stress that comes along with the position could be a possible reason why the commission has received only three applications for its vacant seats. One is from commissioner Ronningen for her current seat which will expire. Five vacant seats need to be filled come Feb. 15.

"I don't know if we have applications to fill the seats that are expiring this year," he said. "It's just my opinion, but let's face it, you don't need to volunteer for that kind of abuse."

The varying opinions in regards to planning and development could also be a primary reason why a lot of residents aren't applying, Fox said, because it's not their lack of interest or passion.

"We certainly have people in town who are interested, for the most part. Folks in town have not struck me as being shy," he said. "But, usually you don't volunteer to stand there and have someone throw punches at you."

Fox, who will be stepping down as chair this year because of time restraints, said the contentious nature of the commission has barely fazed him since he joined the board.

"I learned to just kind of roll with the punches," he said. "It hasn't burnt me out but I may not be typical in that respect either."

Fox said he hopes the commission can find dedicated applicants to fill the vacant seats.

"I hope they are at least sufficiently committed to dedicate at least that amount of time," he said. "Because if they can't do that, you got to ask what's their reason for volunteering in the first place."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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