Lafayette supervisors battle over Planning Commission

By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to return the six-member Planning Commission to its original five-person format instead of expanding to seven, as the commission chairman requested.

The move ousted Leonard Thompson, who has been on the commission since its inception in 1996, and leaves recently appointed James Thompson and four veteran commissioners in their posts.

In a contentious discussion in which Supervisors Johnny Morgan of District 2 and Mike Pickens of District 1 traded accusations of political posturing, board members voted that each supervisor would appoint one person as his direct representative on the Planning Commission and that commissioners' terms would be concurrent with those of their appointing supervisors.

Pickens argued for the direct appointment.

“The only fair way is for each supervisor to appoint somebody from his district,” he said. “I want somebody who's like-minded to represent me on the Planning Commission. I want less government instead of more” – a reiteration of his opposition to zoning, which Morgan has repeatedly urged his peers to consider.

Planning Commission Chairman T.J. Ray told supervisors, “You've taken the position there should be someone from each district, and that has resulted in dropping someone with many years of experience.”

He noted that seven members would spread out the workload for the all-volunteer commission, which reviews subdivision and commercial developments for compliance with county regulations.

“I would hate to lose the institutional memory of the people who are on there now,” Ray said.

After the vote to confirm a five-member Planning Commission, Pickens reappointed Mel Chrestman; District 3 Supervisor Robert Blackmon, who voted with Morgan to expand the commission, reappointed James Thompson; District 4 Supervisor Lloyd Oliphant reappointed Dick Marchbanks; and District 5 Supervisor Ray Sockwell Jr. reappointed Johnny Clemons.

Morgan declined to make an appointment, saying the whole issue needed an Ethics Commission review.

“If we're going to go through this protocol, we need to make sure we're doing things right,” he said.

Until Sockwell nominated Ray to represent Morgan's district, it appeared commission chairman Ray would also be left off the newly constituted commission. Morgan, who acknowledged Ray's appointment was a good choice, voted against it, reiterating his call for an ethics review.

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.