Dual roles are called ‘incompatible’
Marion’s long history of city council members serving on its planning board is not specifically prohibited, but a 1977 attorney general’s opinion calls the two roles “incompatible.”
Readers asked the Record to investigate after noting that John Wheeler, Marion city councilman and candidate for mayor, serves on both the planning commission and the airport authority. His current three-year term on the planning commission will expire in December 2021.
Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said a council member had been on the planning board for the 13 years he’s been on the council.
“Incompatible is way different from illegal,” Heitschmidt said. “They are one person out of a seven-person board. It’s not like council members are a majority of the planning board.”
Heitschmidt said he’d have more of an issue with a council member on the planning commission if the commission were made up of only three members.
City boards serve as advisory committees, not decision-making committees, so city administrator Roger Holter sees no issue with a council member sitting on the planning commission.
In his 1977 opinion, attorney general Curt Schneider wrote that a member of a planning commission who was a member of the governing body would end up voting on his own recommendation.
“Dual membership between the two bodies defeats the purpose of the entire statutory scheme in which the initial decisions regarding planning are assigned to the planning commission, subject to review and final action by the governing body,” Schneider wrote. “In my opinion the positions are incompatible.”
Wheeler was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Last modified July 1, 2019