Panel stalled by eminent domain

Hayden home rule commission moves forward with draft

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Eminent domain tripped up Hayden's home rule panel Monday night, leaving one loose end in the first draft of the proposed town charter.

All nine members of the Home Rule Charter Commission attended the meeting, and several were concerned at a lack of restrictions on eminent domain. Under current rules, the town would have the power to condemn and buy properties as it saw fit.

"I think there has to be some restriction because in the past in some places, there's been some real abuse of eminent domain," Commission Member James Lewis said. "To take over a property and turn it over to a developer to do whatever with to increase the tax base, that's wrong."

Several commission members agreed. Gordon Dowling suggested adding language to the charter stipulating that the town could use eminent domain only if the result would promote the public good.

"You don't want the Town Board or the town to be involved in development," Dowling said. "That's not the job of the Town Board. The job of the town is to provide public services."

The panel agreed to take up the issue in the future, adding language that could prevent eminent domain condemnations from benefiting private developers. Town Manager Russ Martin asked whether he could change the draft charter before the public hearing, set for May 27, and have the commission review the wording June 2. The group agreed.

Beyond that, most of the discussion flowed smoothly. The charter draft will include a new structure for the Town Board, to be called the Town Council. If the charter is approved, that council will consist of six members elected to four-year terms and one member elected to a two-year term. The two-year term will be given to the winning candidate with the fewest votes.

The panel would choose a council president, and the position of mayor would be dropped.

"I think they being the folks I've talked to would prefer a mayor for the simple reason that they've elected one and that's all," Dowling said. "It's just one more separation."

The commission voted 5-4 to stick with a council-elected president.

Mayor Lorraine Johnson said she was concerned that an elected council president wouldn't necessarily have previous experience. She suggested requiring the council president to have a couple of years of board experience. The group voted against that.

The commission made it through the agenda in just more than an hour. No members of the public attended the meeting.

Commission members James Folley, Town Trustee Richard "Festus" Hagins, Bill Irvine, Hayden School District Superintendent Greg Rockhold, Bryan Strickland and Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel rounded out the group. The document they produce is subject to approval from the Board of Trustees and Hayden voters.

Martin planned to finish the draft and hand it over to lawyers this week.

The commission set a public hearing for 7 p.m. May 27 at Hayden Town Hall. Hayden residents are welcome to attend and discuss their questions or concerns about the draft. The final commission meeting will be used to address that conversation. That way, Martin said, public comment will mean something.

"You hear it, you think about it and you bring those issues up," he said.

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