‘Ignorance is Bliss’ applies to quasi-judicial hearings in Chowan & Perquimans
PERQUIMANS COUNTY — At a county commissioner ‘workshop’ Monday night, David Owens with the UNC School of Government addressed the Board and provided information on the proper methods and procedures for holding and conducting ‘quasi-judicial hearings’ on matters of Conditional Use Permits and Special Use Permits.
Regrettably, what became perfectly obvious was that not only did the Commissioners not know these procedures beforehand, but neither did the Planning Director who was in the audience along with various citizens who had an interest in this matter.
After spending in excess of one hour speaking to the commissioners and answering their questions, Mr. Owens concluded his remarks and the workshop meeting was adjourned. At that point, various citizens spoke to Owens about the procedures that had been used by the Commissioners in their deliberations regarding the Wind Energy hearings, which took place several months ago.
Owens was asked about the fact that the commissioners did not conduct the hearings in the proper manner and did not solicit testimony in the correct manner as well. Regrettably, Mr. Owens stated that there was a 30-day statute of limitations after which appeals would no longer be possible.
This is the same identical problem that the Chowan County Planning Board was faced with recently, which resulted in the County Attorney citing the 30-day statute of limitations as a bar toward the citizens’ attempt to appeal the decision of the planning board for failure to follow correct procedures.
In that case, the County Attorney did suggest that the citizen group would have to submit a legal filing to the Superior Court suggesting that the Planning Director should be required to know the proper procedures and that a duty was owed to make citizens aware of a legal requirement to which they would be bound but would otherwise not have the ability to know about.
The citizen group in Perquimans County and the decision of the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners has the same impact on the interest of the public. The bottom line is that the leadership in both counties, charged with adjudicating Special and Conditional Use Permits, should be held to the standard of understanding the proper procedures, and State Law in these cases.
Yet, the citizens who know nothing about the law, with little knowledge of how to obtain that information, are being unjustly denied the opportunity to properly petition their government and to offer expert testimony and question the experts of the opposing side, as required under the procedures for these hearings.
It seems unreasonable that the citizens should be denied the opportunity to have a substitute hearing under the law while the Planning Board and Commissioners are able to profit by following the law while the citizens get no break in that regard.
It has been said many times that “ignorance is bliss.” In the case of these types of hearings, it certainly seems that there are a great many blissful people in the form of County Governments in Chowan and Perquimans Counties.