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Zoning uproar (08/18/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

Impartiality of members of the Winona County Planning Commission has become a hot topic, discussed both at meetings of the commission and in letters to the editor. The County Attorneyís office has weighed in as well.

People have objected to a planning commission member expressing in local media his opinion of proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. The County Attorney could find no law against his action, but did offer the opinion that the commission member could look bad to some observers.

The fact is that democracy can be messy. We are governed under majority rule, which by its very definition is not going to be perceived as fair to the minority.

When the mindset of the Winona County Board changed in the last election, with the defeat of Mena Kaehler by Steve Jacob, an unabashed champion of property rights, it was clear to observers that there would be a change in the zoning ordinance. The ordinance had been enacted by the board under Chair Kaehler.

The Planning Commission is appointed by the County Board, so it is natural that those board members would choose people for the commission who share their philosophy of county governance.

We usually applaud candidates for government office who reveal before they are elected what it is they want to accomplish. In fact, thatís how we decide how we will vote, and we expect that if a candidate is elected, that person will do as he or she has promised.

That doesnít mean that we will all like it. There are a lot of Americans who are not very fond of people like Harry Reid and John McCain, but while we may vilify them, we certainly donít deny them their opinions and the right to voice them loudly and often.

We should afford the same right to freedom of expression to members of the Winona County Planning Commission, because it is legal to do so. Perhaps County Attorney Karin Sonneman is right that lobbying for your position as a Planning Commission member isnít going to sit well with a good portion of the public. But somehow, I donít think the planning commissioner who has been most criticized for speaking out cares much what his detractors think.

It would behoove those in opposition to zoning ordinance changes to address the issues, not the man. 


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