Well, now it’s obvious – Officials: “we don’t care what you think”

Rarely does the public get such a close and first-hand look at the dismissive attitude some officials have toward the public they ostensibly serve.

But Burlington’s planning board gave a rare and distressingly frank glimpse into the contempt with which they hold the members of the public who have the temerity to express their views on a rezoning request or proposed ordinance change that comes before Burlington’s appointed board.

We could not believe the flagrant display of the elitism, the arrogance, and the utter disdain that the planning board members exhibited.  Even worse, they voiced their underlying views out loud.

Keep in mind that the planning board – more officially known in Burlington as the city’s planning commission – is supposed to be comprised of residents who will make their advisory opinions – i.e., recommendations – known to the city council. Like all municipal planning boards, they do not actually “approve” rezoning requests or new ordinances; they’re simply the first stop on the way to final consideration by the city council.

We could not have been more surprised and disappointed by the disparaging attitudes and comments that were revealed by four of the five members during this week’s monthly planning board meeting.

For we must confess that they’ve done a very convincing job of “play-acting” as though they did, in fact, pay attention or care what the public thought at various meetings. At least so we thought.

No, in reality, if citizens have long suspected their efforts to persuade had little impact, their cynicism is all too well justified it turns out.

Four planning board members confessed – out loud for all to hear – no, we’re generally not interested in what public commenters have to say.

Equally distressing is that the bias is not only against hearing from the public, but the default assumption is that they said “we’re generally going to do what the staff recommends.”

Frankly, with that attitude, we’re not sure Burlington even needs to have a planning board.  Might as well let rezoning requests and ordinance revisions go directly to the city council.

The chairman, vice chairman, former vice chairman, and another long-time member all shared these deeply disappointing biases.

We very much hate to reach this conclusion, but maybe it’s time for them to go.  Perhaps their seniority now amounts to being there too long; it certainly reveals a sense of being jaded, biased, and disinclined even to hear what residents have to say.

We had always considered chairman Richard Parker, former vice chairman John Black, and new vice chairman James Kirkpatrick to be competent, professional laymen who had generously leant their time, study, and energy to the task of serving their fellow citizens and the greater good of Burlington.

Now, it seems, instead, they’d prefer to eliminate even the chance for residents to get to speak at planning board meetings.

The city apparently needs some new blood and fresh eyes – and, more importantly, ears.

Kirkpatrick (who once ran for county commissioner) had been rumored to have a future interest in running for city council, as has the one dissenter from the “ignore the public” camp, the board’s newest member, Charlie Beasley, who placed sixth among six candidates for city council last year.

We’re not sure Kirkpatrick’s standing in Burlington will be very high when voters learn of his disposition toward citizens who want to speak up to their government. Beasley might find greater sympathy in a subsequent run, based on his defense of Burlington’s public.

Meanwhile, the current city council is going to need to address this problem that the advisory board has created for itself.