An amendment based on a suggestion by Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings was included in the recently-approved state budget bill, meaning that cities like Hillsboro can look beyond their corporation limits for members to sit on municipal planning commissions.
Hastings raised the issue last September in a letter to State Sen. Bob Peterson (R-17th Dist.), where the mayor noted that Ohio law “mandates the membership of a municipal planning commission, requiring the members to be residents of the municipality.”
The mayor proposed widening the scope of population from which to choose, “whether it is within a specified radius of the city corporation limits, county-wide, or selecting from a property or business owner in the municipality who does not reside within that municipality.”
Hastings wrote that his administration “has transformed the Hillsboro Planning Commission from a reactive group approving variances and driveway cuts to a proactive group who sees the need for updated zoning code, a city-wide pathway program, and a strict adherence to city code. And, most importantly, long term planning.”
The mayor wrote that “changing demographics over the years has made finding viable candidates more difficult.” He added, “Increasing the membership pool will allow the City of Hillsboro to obtain the dynamic, motivated members it needs to continue the momentum created in the past four years.”
On Thursday, Peterson credited Hastings with starting the ball rolling on the change to state law.
“It was very much his idea,” said Peterson. He called it a “perfect example” of a proposal starting at the grassroots level and making its way into law.
Peterson said that after he heard from Hastings, he researched the proposal, consulting with organizations like the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Township Association, with most officials agreeing the suggestion had merit. He said Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger also got on board.
Hastings said Thursday that he learned the change was being enacted while attending a recent mayor’s conference in Columbus. The amendment states that two “citizen members” of planning commissions must still be city residents, but now allows one “public member” to live outside the corporation limit.
In fact, the amendment, as approved, does not place any restriction on where the outside public member resides, simply stating, “…public members need not be residents of the municipal corporation…”
State law prescribes five-member planning commissions, while Hillsboro city code provides for an additional two members, meaning the Hillsboro Planning Commission is made up of seven members.
Previously, the commission consisted of the mayor, the safety and service director, and five citizens residing in the city limits. The change in law revises the number of residents required to live within the city to two – four in Hillsboro’s case, considering the extra two members under the city’s ordinance — giving the mayor the freedom to select one member from outside the corporation limit.
Hastings said that while he would have preferred that the non-resident rule be applied to more than one member — and hopes that someday the same concept will be expanded to other boards and commissions — the change is a step in the right direction. He said he appreciated Peterson’s responsiveness to his suggestion.
Hastings said he wants people on the planning commission who are “engaged and interested,” adding that Hillsboro has a unique role not just as a city, but as the county seat, with decisions that impact people outside the city.
“There are a lot of good, involved people who work in Hillsboro or are otherwise very involved in Hillsboro, but because they don’t happen to live in the city limits they aren’t eligible to serve on our board and commissions,” said Hastings. “Hopefully, this change will lead to even more leeway being enacted into law when it comes to making these appointments.”
In addition to Hastings and Mel McKenzie, the safety and service director, current commission members are Tom Eichinger, Ruth Robbins, Joe Mahan and Charlie Guarino. Hastings said he plans to fill the seventh spot using the new parameters allowed by the change in state code. The mayor’s appointments to the commission must be approved by a majority of city council.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by on Twitter @abernathygary.