Council OKs hearing examiner

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Council OKs hearing examiner

By Meg Olson

Following a public hearing devoid of members of the public, Blaine City Council opted to replace the city board of adjustment with a professional hearing examiner.

“The board of adjustment lacked land use and legal expertise to make appeal decisions,” said community development director Terry Galvin. “Federal, state and local regulations have become more and more complex. It’s a real maze.” Having the board of adjustment, made up of community members appointed by council, make decisions on appeals opened up the city to liability and potential litigation, he said.

A hearing examiner would be an independent legal professional hired by the city who would make quasi-judicial rulings when an administrative decision was challenged by appeal. Review of variances from city codes, which had in some conditions been handled by the board of adjustment, will now all go through the planning commission for a decision.

Council also approved fees for appeals to the hearing examiner, which will mean a substantial increase over the $150 it cost to bring a matter before the board of adjustment. On top of the $150 filing fee, appellants will need to pay the $75 per hour cost for the hearing examiner unless they win, in which case the city picks up the tab. “It could deter a number of frivolous appeals,” Galvin said, estimating an appeal could cost $400 or more. “It’s one of the very few fees going against the trend,” Galvin said in defense of the high appeal cost. “Fees are going down overall.”

Decisions by the hearing examiner can be appealed to city council, at least for the time being. John Liebert proposed an amendment that would automatically transfer the appeal process to the courts after two years but he got little support from fellow council members. “I don’t want it to be automatic and we lose that flexibility,” said Ken Ely. Most council members wanted to have the time to see how the system worked before relinquishing authority over appeals. “We might not see any appeals in two years and I’d like to see us review it,” she said.

Votes for the hearing examiner system and fee schedule were unanimous but Liebert’s amendment failed, his being the only vote for it. “Council is just pigheaded, I can’t help it,” he said after the vote.

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