Sunday, February 1, 2004

Trustee wants remarks first

Let residents speak at start of meetings, he says

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Folks who want to complain to township trustees soon might not have to sit through a two-hour meeting to speak.

George Lang is trying to persuade fellow trustees to let five residents speak before beginning the meeting agenda. It's one of several changes the new trustee wants to make township government more "citizen friendly," he says.

"If someone is mad at me, they shouldn't have to wait 21/2 hours to say something," Lang says.

Before being elected last November, Lang would watch people walk out of trustees' meetings after two hours without being able to speak.

Trustees schedule "citizen comments" far down the agenda, after public hearings, proclamations, presentations, personnel items and requisitions. On Jan. 13, residents had to wait two hours and 10 minutes to address board members.

Lang wants a limited public forum - five people given two minutes each to talk - at the start of the meeting. "So if someone has a child to pick up, they can be on their way," says Lang, owner of Jag's restaurant in Union Centre.

Jose Alvarez, a trustee since 1995, has warmed to the proposal. But he has reminded Lang that trustees meet twice monthly primarily to do township business.

Public comments, he says, should come after bills are paid and before the final vote on resolutions - such as Tuesday's adoption of a design change for the proposed West Chester Towne Centre retail complex at Union Centre.

Resident Jim Golden, who regularly attends trustees' meetings, says both Lang's view and Alvarez's have merit.

"People have kids and a lot of running around to do," says Golden, a retired engineer, "but if you want to participate in government, you have to make some sacrifices."

Lang's to-do list also includes:

• Looking at the township's 20-year plan adopted in 1992. "The community has changed. The township is different," he says. So trustees will be given a status report on the plan's implementation at a February meeting by Judi Carter, assistant administrator.

• Making it easier for property owners to get a zoning variance to erect fences, decks, sheds or other structures. It has been "virtually impossible to get a variance" for two years because of a strict interpretation of the township zoning code by the Butler County Common Pleas Court, says Lang, a former member of the township's Board of Zoning Appeals.

At Lang's urging, trustees will meet with the appeals board and discuss variances at 5 p.m. Feb. 11.

• Urging state legislators to give home-rule townships the power to implement income taxes.

"We have 50,000 daytime workers in the township, and only 15,000 live here. They drive on our roads, count on our police and fire protection, and don't pay us anything for that," he says.

He proposes townships roll back property taxes if they impose an earnings tax.


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