YORK – The York County Commissioners have postponed an appointment to the county’s planning and zoning board, in order to have a conversation with the applicant after hearing a few constituents’ questions about possible conflict of interest.
This week, appointments to the board were before the commissioners. They were to consider the reappointments of Roger Morris, Aaron Kavan, Karle Heine and Chad Hirschfeld. They were also being asked to consider the appointment of a new member, Luke Gruber.
Prior to the matter coming before them, during the public forum portion of the meeting, Gene Jackson addressed the commissioners.
“I am here as a representative of Our Voices Count and a good majority of people from the Hayes Township,” Jackson said.
This group was formed by constituents who have concerns about a proposed solar field project near McCool Junction, in Hayes Township.
The county’s planning and zoning board members have been working toward the preliminary draft of regulations pertaining to projects like solar fields, carbon capture pipelines and other energy projects that aren’t included in the county’s zoning regulations right now. And these possible projects are already in the beginning stages in thecounty.
“We have three questions,” Jackson told the board. He asked if all the zoning and planning members would be reappointed for three years, would the board be approving earlier discussed regulations or would they be rewritten again, and would they approve an appointment of Gruber if he had a conflict of interest.
Jackson questioned if Gruber had a conflict of interest because of his personal affiliation with the industry of electrical power, when the zoning/planning board would be considering the proposed solar field regulations.
Later, when the agenda item became that of the appointments, York County Commissioner Randy Obermier said he reached out to all the members of the current board and asked if they wanted to continue to serve.
“All of them said yes, with the exception of Mr. (Rodney) Matlock,” Obermier explained. “Meanwhile, I had a young man reach out to me who said he would like to serve. He recently completed the 17-County Leadership program and wants to serve his county in this way.”
“Could we wait to decide on this appointment, so we could look into the questions that were asked here today, about their concerns?” asked Commissioner Stan Boehr, regarding Gruber’s possible conflict of interest.
“Personally, I’d say that when people are asked to serve on these types of boards, they are asked to consider all issues not just regarding the solar projects,” Obermier said. “I guess, I don’t see it (conflict of interest). I’ve known him and to my knowledge (his affiliation with Perennial Power) has nothing to do with this particular solar project.”
“Each member will bring a prospective to the board,” said Commissioner Woody Ziegler. “It is curious to think what prospective someone with ties to (the electrical industry) would bring. We are not vetting the others about their prospectives about solar, but it is curious. It is challenging, with people from Hayes Township having concerns. Maybe we should ask about his ties and his prospective.”
“We are talking about one member of a five-person board,” Obermier said. “And the recommendations coming forward – we will continue to work with those and their recommendation will come to this board, with this board having final authority.”
“It is an interesting viewpoint,” said Commissioner Daniel Grotz, “which has been brought to our attention. I hear the concerns. I think anytime you are serving on a board, you are not to have a personal agenda and you need to look at how the issues impact the entire community and not just yourself. You have to look at the betterment of York County. Now, whether or not we want to take this appointment up right now, or take time to research what’s being brought up, I don’t know. The other people serving weren’t given a lot of scrutiny so is that fair to do to someone else? I don’t have a problem reappointing the others who are already on the board.”
“Do we ask any other board members to sign a letter about conflict of interest?” asked Commissioner Jack Sikes. “We don’t have the other planning and zoning board members do that, do we?”
“No,” Obermier said. “We are typically just happy to have people volunteer to serve. I’m personally happy to see a young person want to get involved. I don’t know how you would prove there would be something underhanded going on. I don’t know how we say no we don’t want you. I haven’t seen anything to be concerned about. We could ask him to come and talk with us at the next meeting and approve the reappointments today.”
“I make a motion to do that, to reappoint the other four and then have Mr. Gruber come in to see us at our next meeting,” Boehr said.
The motion was seconded by Grotz.
The commissioners approved the motion and Obermier said he would reach out to Gruber, “to see if he still would want to do it.”
They will be sending a letter of appreciation to Matlock for his service.