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EDITORIAL: Campground hearing spins into the bizarre: city can and must do better

There are readers who have probably heard of the phrase “jump the shark.”

Wikipedia says it’s when “a creative work or entity has reached a point in which it has exhausted its core intent and is introducing new ideas that are discordant with, or an over-exaggeration of, its original purpose.”

Some say the phrase, which has become slang in today’s social media world, came from the old Happy Days TV show, which veered off to strange things including the famous character “Fonzie” jumping a shark in an otherwise forgettable episode.

It’s safe to say that on Wednesday night, Ely’s ongoing saga over an RV park/campground expansion has indeed “jumped the shark.”

It reached a new level of bizarre when, only a minute after they convened, the city’s board of adjustment declared a highly-anticipated public hearing to be over - before it ever really began.

The official word was that Dean Peterson’s application for a conditional use permit and variance for his Miners Lake Campground project was not complete, and thus the hearing could not proceed.

This was at least the second time in a month when a public meeting on the project was cut short before it was to start, and it understandably stunned if not enraged those who gathered at City Hall for the meeting.

More than 30 people, most seemingly opponents of the project, came out to voice their opinions and ask questions before the commission would take action.

Peterson’s initial request faced similar opposition at a hearing in September, and he’s since revised it and made some changes including a slight reduction in the number of spaces proposed for recreational vehicles and campers.

In a finding of facts, city staff endorsed Peterson’s first request and we wouldn’t be surprised to see this one get the OK as well.

We believe also that Peterson’s project has merit, that it would fill a void in town and provide economic benefit.

We’ve also found that the opponents have generally had a “not in my back yard” approach to their opposition - and find it a bit off-putting given that the area has long been zoned for similar use and at one point operated as a campground.

Yet the board of adjustment, which doubles as Ely’s planning and zoning commission, may be  doing more damage to Peterson’s request than project opponents.

Whether intentional or not, the series of public hearings have become farcical in nature, with the board engaging in verbal spats with the audience at times, and responding to serious inquiries with incomplete responses or simply answering “we’ll take that under advisement.”

One needs a thick skin to serve in city government, whether it’s on the city council or volunteering on a committee that’s addressing hot-button issues.

Responding to citizen concerns is part of the job, and it’s a terrible look - both for the board of adjustment and the city itself - when public hearings are cancelled abruptly with little to no explanation.

Silence indeed breeds suspicion.

There may be no reason to be suspicious, but public entities that ignore or avoid citizen concerns and questions unwittingly and perhaps unintentionally make themselves look bad.

Wednesday’s extremely brief meeting makes it certain that both the board of adjustment and its citizen watchdogs will square off again.

Better PR, better explanations and better information will go a long way in restoring trust in the system and the city would be best advised to avoid another shark-jumping moment.

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