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Sun., Aug. 2
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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On the job


Serving on a public body is a solemn duty.

This work is made all the more honorable when considering that many members of local boards and committees do so voluntarily. These residents give a great deal of their time to attend meetings and research information presented to them so they can make the best decisions possible.

And no one expects voluntary board members to show up at every single meeting. With families of their own and other commitments to keep, life outside the boardroom sometimes gets in the way — as well it should.

But making sure that boards fulfill their objectives requires members to carve sufficient time out of their busy schedules. Municipal entities cannot carry out their tasks without these groups providing their opinions on relevent issues.

With a total of seven members, the Ogdensburg Zoning Board of Appeals has lately been attracting the bare minimum of four representatives required to convene official meetings. A vacancy on the board was left when member Misty Fishel resigned in June. Some other members have gone beyond the maximum number of three unexcused absences.

On Sept. 24, members of the Ogdensburg City Council questioned the effectiveness of ZBA meetings with votes of 4-0 to approve various measures. So while four members present are enough to conduct business, council members wondered if such a thin margin has been adequate to thoroughly investigate these matters.

This raises an interesting point. Members of the ZBA are charged with making a collective determination if variances to the city’s zoning codes should be granted.

To do so, they must examine each request by questioning the applicant about the need for a variance. They then must discern the worthiness of a request, applying any precedents that may exist.

The more ZBA members attending a meeting at any one time, obviously, the broader array of input the board will have to reach a clear consensus. Conversely, subtracting members from any meeting robs the ZBA of unique perspectives that may influence the course of a decision.

With the minimum number of four members on hand to hold an official meeting, a recommendation to approve or deny a requested variance may proceed on as few as three votes. This would mean that less than half the makeup of the ZBA would approve a proposition that would move on to the City Council for its consideration.

Is the city being best served in this way? Would it be appropriate for a minority of ZBA members to officially pass measures that come before them?

It’s understandable that summer and fall schedules become jammed with events, be they professional or social. There will be times when some members of a public body will not be able to attend an official meeting.

The ZBA serves a vital function, however, and members must accept the responsibility of participating when necessary. The City Council relies on the ZBA’s judgment regarding zoning matters, and its decisions are more legitimate when made with a fuller host of voices.

“You’ve got a responsibility to be there or don’t be on the board,” Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said at the Sept. 24 meeting. All members of the Ogdensburg ZBA would be wise to heed this advice.

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