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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Milton's BZA Removes Chairwoman

by Jason Wright / www.northfulton.com
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Milton -- Milton's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) took the unprecedented step of removing its chairwoman from her role at a special called meeting March 27.Heidi Sowder resigned from the BZA the next morning, calling the board's actions "excessive.""I was surprised," she said.

Sowder was demoted by a vote of 4-1, with herself and board member Todd Chernik abstaining. The vote came after five of the seven member group expressed serious trust concerns following Sowder's decision to speak on BZA issues at a March 10 City Council work session.The one vote to keep Sowder as chairwoman was cast by board member Scott Kilgore, who also attended the council work session.Board member Gary Willis made the motion to remove the chairwoman. He said when Sowder brought her concerns about procedural issues in the appeals' filing process to council she did not make it clear she was acting as a private citizen and not the designee of the board."You can't go to a board [as just a citizen]," he said. "Your job is to represent the BZA."

The members who voted to remove Sowder expressed similar concerns, namely that they heard council thought she spoke for the whole board on issues about which they were not aware were up for discussion."What you and Scott did lost a lot of our trust," said Willis.

Sowder stayed on the defensive most of the meeting, insisting she was not trying to "sneak" anything past the rest of the board. She said she'd brought up her concerns in prior meetings and felt only she and Kilgore shared an opinion. Thus, they were the only two who went to council.

At the council work session, Sowder insisted she had only voiced her own opinions, not the board's. Further, she said she did not feel it was incumbent upon her to alert the board if she had personal concerns and also said it was not her fault council didn't ask her whether she was speaking as a citizen or head of the BZA."I'm not the secretary of this board," she said. "I didn't realize what a snowball it would have become."

Further muddying the waters of the argument was the fact that City Council discussed a number of issues while Kilgore and Sowder were before them, including taking away oversight on contentious stream buffer variances.Most of the board seemed suspicious the topics would be brought up without urging.

They were also surprised neither Kilgore nor Sowder mentioned the discussions at the next BZA meeting, leading board member Sandy Jones to wonder if it was an intentional omission."What I wanted to talk about and what they talked about were different," said Sowder.

As such, the board also voted 7-0 to ask council not to make any binding decisions on the issues discussed at the work session for 60 days.For his part, Kilgore apologized for not alerting the rest of the board to his or Sowder's actions.Sowder, however, remained defiant and combative throughout the meeting. Before the vote was called to remove her, board member Walt Rekuc asked Sowder if she could lead the board amid the concerns she'd heard that night."It depends on if everyone can forgive someone who was being honest," she replied.After resigning Sowder said it was "best for the board if I were not on it."She said the seven years she has spent working on local issues has taken time away from her family, and she intends to get it back."A lot of times I just don't think it was worth it," she said.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know Heidi Souter, but I can tell you that the last line in this news story pangs my heart. I often wonder if I will one day say the same thing. You give it your All, many times at the expensive loss in precious family time, to give endless amounts of energy to a "place".

Heidi's story is a sad one to me. Especially when you consider that speaking honesty is not a good thing at City Hall.

Surely someone out there knows the "whole" truth. Please speak up.


-Patti Silva

Travis Allen said...

I was at the Council Work Session that Heidi spoke at...

From what I recall, not once did she say that she was there on behalf of the BZA, she was speaking about some of the issues she saw as problems that needed to be corrected.

She never singled out anyone, so for her to be asked to leave her position on the board is absolutely ridiculous...

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that any meetings of city boards or councils has to be announced at least 24 hours in advance?

This most certainly was NOT announced that far in advance, if in advance to anyone other than the members of this board.

Does anyone else have any issues with that or is it just me?

LS

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that any meetings of city boards or councils has to be announced at least 24 hours in advance?

This most certainly was NOT announced that far in advance, if in advance to anyone other than the members of this board.

Does anyone else have any issues with that or is it just me?

LS

Anonymous said...

I honestly do not know the rules about posting agendas and meetings. Anyone else?

Travis Allen said...

Here's what I've found:

www.gfaf.org/resources/sunshine_laws.pdf

Page 8, section C

If this is correct, then I feel that the board met without sufficient notice and should be reprimanded.

Anonymous said...

"For his part, Kilgore apologized for not alerting the rest of the board to his or Sowder's actions.Sowder, however, remained defiant and combative throughout the meeting."

It would appear the two board members handled the situation differently.All she had to do is try to work through the issues.

Anonymous said...

What?

You now have to alert someone when you want to express your Constitutionally given opinion?

I don't blame her for being defiant...this board is in place to protect our community look and feel, yet all they do is squabble over whether or not something is in harmony with the surrounding area...one person could probably handle this, but instead we let a whole board argue over it...

Anonymous said...

This is not about The Constitution.

The real issue here is STREAM Buffers and who holds POWER.

This whole thing was crafted to circumambulate the authority of the BZA by the same old chaos maker.And as usual, all it causes is bad blood and finger pointing.

It is Milton Politics at it's worst.

Anonymous said...

So then, who is the chaos maker? I feel so outta the loop lately. What is really going on down there. Can someone just spell it out.

Anonymous said...

T.O.M. W.I.L.S.O.N.

That's where the buck stops...he makes up his own rules for how appeals and variances are filed...

Get rid of him, get rid of the problem.

Anonymous said...

I doubt it is Mr. Wilson, he is just in charge of the asylum. And I don't envy his position.

Anonymous said...

"Further muddying the waters of the argument was the fact that City Council discussed a number of issues while Kilgore and Sowder were before them, including taking away oversight on contentious stream buffer variances.Most of the board seemed suspicious the topics would be brought up without urging."

"Urging"

What a nice word to sanitize dirty politics and power struggles over Stream buffers. The whole thing was nothing but a failed plan to wrestle power away from the BZA.

Just look who did all of the talking after the subject "came up" accidently on purpose.

Free Speach, not hardly, more like following orders.IMHO

Anonymous said...

Was it "JZB"?

Anonymous said...

Why does it always have to be Julie's fault?

...that's just an ignorant excuse for those who aren't fully aware of the issue at hand...

Why not ask why Community Developement didn't institute rules that were more clearly stated. That way they'd be much easier to interpret.

Anonymous said...

Heidi Sowder is an intelligent, independent and strong woman with sound business sense who is not afraid to speak her mind when she feels things are being done wrong.

She has been actively involved in
planning and zoning issues in
this community for years and knows the proceses and procedures like the back of her hand.

The fact of the matter is (and the council knows it)that Community Development have made some serious mistakes that are detrimental to Milton. Heidi had an issue with they way processes were being ignored by Community Development and she felt the need to bring her concerns to the Council.

Go and speak to member's of other boards and see if they have complaints with Staff - you'll be surprised at the horror stories they can tell

And Heidi has never been nor will ever be a pawn for Julie. It's well known that they've been on the opposite sides of the fence in so many issues

Anonymous said...

If the city staff could follow procedures correctly as they have to do each month (the same thing regarding notifying the public in the same manner regarding the upcoming monthly BZA hearings)without making stupid errors, as it should be, then there would be less issues. The Community Development Manager (Wilson) shouldn't be covering up their mistakes and making excuses. Also, in regards to stream variances and the most recent hot one regarding the Board of Education property, the BZA and the City Council should review the full project of the use of this property, the intentions of the BOE is to build schools on it, prior to a Land Disturbance Permit, or allowing encroachment into the Milton buffer. Why restore a stream now,,if the BOE plans to come back in 5 years later and pipe and fill the same stream Wernick is wanting to restore. That my friends makes no sense. If the stream is restored then it should remain untouched by anyone indefinitely, including the BOE. Obviously this stream is vital to the health of the Coosa River Watershed and Chicken Creek. It's importance is vital, so the BOE can't plunk a school building on it later. When are they going to get off that property anyway. They picked a hum dinger of a property to dare put schools on septic of anykind. Hope the community and city councl helps those folks out who are fighting it ....the BOE blatantly doesn't give a hoot about the environment or our water issues in Georgia. As long as they can check a potential school off their "to do" list, it doesn't matter to them what they do to the environment and our water in Ga as long as they get their way.

Heidi - you should remain on the BZA and those that voted you out get the boot! I vote we put the big red hairy eyeball on all of the remaining BZA members and see how they like it. Better not fumble or trip or you will be out next! See how you like it then. I agree with Travis Allen's remarks on how she did not indicate at anytime she was speaking on behalf of the BZA!!

Anonymous said...

I can tell from the poster above who calls the staff "Staff", that you are a city hall worker or elected official. The problem with City Hall is that "Staff" is hired by CH2M Hill not the City of Milton. CH2M Hill does well in every area EXCEPT Human Resources. This is NOT what the company does well at ALL for "Staff". Take it from one who knows the HR field well.

Who suffers in the end. The community. This is a great example of what goes around, comes around.

CH2M Hill provides a much needed City Start Up Service but there are a few conflicts of interest and this is just another one of those - People.

Anonymous said...

They need to recruit more qualified HR professionals.

Anonymous said...

Actually I'm just a plain old citizen. I'm not an elected official (heaven forbid),I don't work for the City and I certainly do not work for CH2M Hill (I would not work for the latter if it was the last job on earth)

I call them staff because that's
unfortunately what they are called at the City of Milton whether they work directly for the City or for CH2M Hill.I could call them something else but that might be ill advised and inappropriate.

Whatever they are called - one thing is for certain - if they work for CH they need to be replaced by people who report to the City and have a vested interest in its wellbeing

Anonymous said...

Wrongo, I am not city "staff" either, or should that read "staph"? Just a plain-ole Milton blogger just like the other folks.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I should move to Lavonia.

Anonymous said...

I think you mean Lithonia...

Anonymous said...

At rate we're going, may have to change city name to Milthonia.

Anonymous said...

What would John Milton think about that idea?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about John Milton, be concerned with what Elton John might think.

Anonymous said...

If only people would stop drinking Julie Kool Aide. It makes their vision funky.

Anonymous said...

sum people gave it up they saw the true color of the coolaide

Anonymous said...

SUM ?? COOLAIDE ??

Anonymous said...

I think Alan has gotten drunk on the kool aide?

Anonymous said...

Don't you mean Countrytime Lemonade? Wow, now Julie has her own drink! Good for her! Maybe we should name a drink for the rest of council? Who gets the shot of Jack, and who gets the "Wine" Spritzer, Karen?

Hey, I made myself laugh on that one! Just think, we could be putting our efforts into solving world hunger instead of blogging mindlessly.

Hey, maybe the Union could come up with a drink for each one and sell them at their bar, oops, I mean restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Julie definitely has brainwashed the council and Joe, but lets admit it, its something much stronger than Kool Aide.