La Plata County has encouraged public participation in its effort to update district plans, but some residents are going out of bounds, representing themselves as county employees and creating confusion among people who may not know better.
“We say to people, help us out with (the district plan update),” said Jim Tencza, chairman of the La Plata County Planning Commission, the body leading the update. “But some take more ownership than they’re entitled to.”
La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve an open letter addressing the issue.
“This confusion has led some county residents to mistakenly believe that meetings hosted by (third-party) groups were official county meetings, that the leaders at the meetings were county government representatives and other misplaced assumptions,” the letter says.
For the past year or so, the La Plata County Planning Commission, a group of volunteers appointed by La Plata County commissioners, has been leading the process to update the county’s 12 district plans, some of which are decades old.
District plans are guiding, advisory documents that allow smaller communities within the county to establish visions for how and where they would like to see growth in their neighborhoods.
A critical part to updating a district plan is to elicit a good amount of feedback from residents who live in the district, Tencza said.
“We want input from everyone,” he said.
But a problem has arisen in recent weeks: Individual residents, as well as citizen-led groups that have formed within districts to provide input, are not drawing a clear distinction that they are not part of La Plata County government.
Some people and groups have assumed names and titles that suggest they are affiliated with La Plata County government. Or they host meetings that lead residents to believe they are attending an official county meeting.
“Then they arrive and find out the county is not involved, it’s a citizens group,” said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County. “If people are confused about the role of a particular group, that can cause confusion on how input is considered for the final plan.”
Tencza said the problem isn’t happening with all 12 district plans.
But the Florida Mesa area is running into the issue, he said. There, the district plan update has a couple of competing groups and individuals involved who don’t always agree.
“We’ve had fights at some district meetings where groups say they represent everyone in the district,” Tencza said. “But no one represents everyone in the district.”
To help solve the issue, Tencza said the Planning Commission accepts all public comment from all groups and individuals. When the Planning Commission goes to draft a proposed final plan, all input will be taken into consideration equally.
As far as trying to clear up confusion caused by people presenting themselves as county representatives, Graham said the key is messaging.
“We are very clear in our notifications about what are county-led meetings,” she said.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff said at Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting that she has been contacted by two residents who attended meetings they thought were hosted by the county but were not.
“I think it’s important that we try our best to clarify,” she said. “This (the open letter) appears to be a starting point.”
There are a number of ways to formally submit public comment, Tencza said. The Planning Commission and county staff hold a number of listening sessions and discuss district plans at meetings on some Thursdays.
Tencza said the Planning Commission is on track to have all 12 district plans updated by September.