Opening the book to the public

As an observer of Sussex County government, it’s easy to be critical. Everyone loves armchair quarterbacks. With that in mind, someone needs to take a look at the county’s public hearing process.

There is an official public record, which is actually a file kept in the planning and zoning office. It’s a bit of mystery how information is placed in that file and when it’s placed.

It’s not unusual for applicants to present information, including changed plans and massive project booklets, on the night of a public hearing.

Throughout presentations, applicants and council members refer to the “book” by saying turn to tab 4, page 3. Of course, the public and press have no idea what they are referring to.

This book, sometimes as thick as a phone book, contains everything pertinent to the application. There is usually a copy of the book available in the official public record, but it may not be in the same form as presented to county council.

Planning and zoning commissioners require this book be presented at least 10 days prior to the public hearing date. It used to be 72 hours.

Although it would be of considerable cost, it should be required that the applicant have copies of the booklet, or at least modified editions, available to the public during hearings.

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