The fight to put Jackson zoning applications online continues into another month. Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote is trying to pass an ordinance that will require the city to post all zoning requests online. However, the council delayed taking action as Mr. Foote was unable to attend and city officials wanted to water down his proposal.
Mr. Foote wants the city to posts all zoning requests on its website. The posted request will include the zoning application, maps, and traffic engineering reports (if any exists.). Posting online will make it convenient for citizens to find out what exactly is going on when they see those little white zoning hearing notices go up in their neighborhoods. Current city policy requires someone to file a public records request and pay applicable fees before someone can actually see the application packet submitted to the city.
Zoning Administrator Esther Ainsworth told the committee that she was willing to post the first page and the declaration page (of the zoning application) along with the notice of the hearing online. She said someone could file a public records request for the rest of the information. However, someone requesting the application and maps would have to wait up to fourteen business days and pay fees*.
The city submitted its counter-proposal to the committee only a few hours prior to the meeting. That offer was made after it submitted another one even earlier that day. The earlier offer proposed posting the submitted application packet when it posts a public notice of a zoning hearing online. Planning & Development Director Eric Jefferson said he did not want to post page 2 of the zoning application as it contained the contact information for the requester as well as possible trade secrets.
Mr. Foote attempted to call in to the meeting but was told that he had to give a five day notice in order to do so**. Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. said he was not comfortable moving forward when Mr. Foote was not present and the city waited until the last minute to submit its own proposal.
*For example, the city required this correspondent to pay $80 for a copy of the rezoning request made by Goodwill industries that is posted below.
**The Hinds County Board of Supervisors abolished this requirement a few years ago. The city council should do so as well.
Kingfish note: The Goodwill industries zoning application posted below merely states on page two what the contact information is for the person or company making the request for rezoning, his representative, and the current property owner. There are no trade secrets posted on this page. It is strictly contact information that is provided to the public if a printed out copy of the application is requested.
The zoning department is clearly trying to avoid posting the applications online. It has resisted Mr. Foote's proposal every step of the way. Its counteroffer does not include maps or traffic engineering reports. The city wants to keep forcing citizens to file public records requests, wait two to three weeks, and pay fees for merely trying to find out what is going on in their own neighborhoods. Then there is the matter of timing. The zoning notices are posted 15 calendar days prior to the hearing. A citizen could file Ms. Ainsworth's precious public records request and get the records after the hearing took place.
JJ reported on November 2:
Mr. Foote said he wanted to post the submitted zoning applications online to reduce "the friction among the neighborhood associations" and create "less angst out there." However, Ms. Ainsworth (11:30) said that if the information was posted online, that people could make "interpretations sometimes that are not correct." She also said "We don't want people to make abrupt decisions based on what staff recommends (included in the zoning application)." She said they "may make an uninformed decision" based upon what information "is out there in terms whether they support or don't support (that zoning request)." She said the zoning documents can be a really large file but Mr. Foote said "That's ok, the cloud is a really big place." He said he would rather people complain because he voted the wrong way than complain they couldn't get a copy of the zoning request.The committee is inclined to pass Mr. Foote's proposal. The first counter-offer was good and achieve Mr. Foote's goals of transparency but the current one was junk as it keeps much relevant information about zoning requests from the people of Jackson. One can only wonder how many more excuses the zoning department will conjure up as Mr. Foote and his colleagues attempt to bring some sunlight to the zoning process in Jackson.
Ms. Ainsworth also said uploading completed zoning applications online would mean some proprietary or trade information might have to be redacted. However, she failed to mention that such guidelines currently apply to those obtained through public records request..... Earlier post.
Note: Here are two zoning applications submitted this year. The request for the old Colonial Country Club site is a good example. Only pages six and nine would be posted online. Someone could only obtain the maps (pages 11-14, 22-27) and the traffic engineering report (page 27) through a public records request.