Public Service Rewards

Phil Goldstein | North Forty News


In 2011 I was appointed to Timnath’s Planning Commission by Town Council. I was recently reappointed to a fourth four-year term and re-elected a ninth time as Chair by my peers. My service to the town has been the most rewarding experience of my post-retirement life.

The planning commission in Timnath is the governmental entity responsible for reviewing residential and commercial development proposals as well as re-zonings, annexations, long-term planning processes and most land use requests. On some matters the commission has sole authority; on others it makes recommendations to Town Council, which then has final authority. The seven commissioners—five regular commissioners and two alternates—are unpaid volunteers.

Planning Commissioners are limited in how and when they may engage the public regarding development proposals. Commissioners are governed by strict legal requirements that prohibit discussion among themselves, with developers or with the public on official matters outside of formal public meetings. 

Commissioners are also obliged to be unbiased about proposals. The town’s comprehensive plan, land use code and zoning map provide guidance on decision-making, not one’s personal opinion. And while public opinion, which is always welcome at meetings, is helpful, Commissioners must balance differing opinions, legal rights of landowners and the legal boundaries of their authority.

Besides these obligations, the position is not for everyone. Digesting the details of 200-page agenda packets before meetings is tedious, although I’m thankful for the diligence of my colleagues in that regard. It’s no fun either explaining to a room full of concerned residents why the legal reality of developers’ rights in a fast-growing region trumps a realtor’s promises that a large open space behind their homes will remain undeveloped forever. 

Upon hearing recently that I’d been reappointed to Timnath’s Planning Commission, a friend asked why I wanted to continue the work, presuming that it was surely an imposition on my time and sensibilities. I told her that, on the contrary, I welcomed continuing because I enjoy giving back to the community, and I value the relevance and identity of public service. But even more, I value the trust accorded to my colleagues and me by Town Council for the honor of serving our little town, the confidence my colleagues have in me to serve as their Chair, and I look forward to the next four years of being an integral part of Timnath’s strategic and responsible growth into a bigger town. 

Thanks to several readers who suggested this topic. Contact me at the email below if you’d like to learn more about public service and whether or not it might be right for you.

Phil Goldstein is in his fourth year writing Tales from Timnath for North Forty News. Phil is a 13-year Timnath resident who is finally using his West Virginia University journalism degree after getting sidetracked 50 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column at [email protected].


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