Planning commissioners’ comments elicit complaint

Comments made by Clark County Planning Commission members during a June 15 meeting could land at least one member in hot water. One resident said they will be filing a formal complaint with the county’s Ethics Review Commission specifically regarding comments made by Chair Karl Johnson.
“I dialed in to last Thursday night’s Clark County Planning Commission meeting to share my perspective on code changes that impacted my neighborhood, and what I encountered was bullying by the chair,” said Ridgefield flower farmer Maureen McKenna.
The commission was meeting to discuss proposed amendments to Clark County Code, specifically sections related to defining urban residential districts, parking, special uses, and permits and reviews. The commission also reviewed proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan’s land use and housing element chapters.
McKenna said she chose to call into the meeting instead of attending in person because she’s busy with work on her farm. McKenna was one of several residents to offer public comment at the meeting, some in person and others dialed in remotely.
Like many county meetings, planning commission meetings are held in a hybrid format with in-person and virtual attendance possible. However, when it comes to residents offering public comment, Johnson had some sharp criticism for those calling in or joining remotely, particularly those criticizing the county’s public engagement process or suggesting commission members have a conflict of interest.
Johnson said county staff are always working to get people engaged, but residents don’t show up. He said the planning commission wants the public’s input so they can make informed decisions.
“I do not like people on phones, and I understand what we have here, but they need to be here,” Johnson said. “It reminds me of one of my eighth-grade students, and this is going to be harsh … on social media. It’s cowardly. You come here and sit right there and tell me.”
McKenna said she thought Johnson’s comments were inappropriate, especially coming from the chair.
“I wonder, how does Chair Johnson’s behavior impact engagement from a member of the community who has a disability or who is a senior citizen? How do his words impact engagement by a parent of a small child or a caregiver with a parent at home? How does it impact a low-income resident who is dependent upon public transportation?,” McKenna said. “Why is a comment stated in person any more valid than one shared over the phone or over WebEx? I believe that this type of comment harms not just me, but the broader community, and Clark County as a whole.”
Johnson wasn’t the only planning commission member to raise a few eyebrows during the meeting. When considering proposed code changes intended to help address the county’s continuing affordable housing shortage, Vice Chair Matt Swindell said he has lingering concerns about the types of housing that will be allowed under the changes.
While he said he understands the county needs more and different types of housing options, Swindell said he doesn’t favor things like accessory dwelling units which could create parking issues or decrease property values.
“I’m preparing my children to make more money. I’ve told my children, ‘Homes are expensive. Do you want to own your own home? You better do something, you better get a better job, you better start doing better in life because you’re not going to be able to afford living here in Clark County if you don’t get a better job,’ “ Swindell said during the meeting.
He said the county needs to also focus on creating more jobs and opportunities that will allow younger generations to “live, work and play here.”
“Let’s start looking more to creating better jobs for people so we can afford to buy these $400,000 homes … which are beautiful homes,” Swindell added. “I don’t want my Clark County that I leave to my grandchildren to just have all these teeny tiny homes.”
To watch the full meeting, go to
— Shari Phiel

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