by Jason Wright / www.northfulton.com
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.