A screenshot from the Frankfort-Franklin County Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee's Wednesday meeting.

After 20 years of not having updated their joint comprehensive plan, a pivotal document for determining future land use and development, Frankfort and Franklin County officials took a big step Wednesday toward rewriting the document.

However, the motion to move forward came amid a significant amount of confusion and some disagreement due mostly to the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee only receiving one response to its request for proposals (RFP) to significantly revamp the Frankfort-Franklin County Comprehensive Plan. 

The committee voted 4-3 to recommend that proposal to the Frankfort-Franklin County Planning Commission.

Chairman Sherron Jackson along with recent appointees Russell Wright, Charles Stewart and former Frankfort Mayor Bill May all voted in favor of recommending the proposal of Cincinnati-based McBride Dale Clarion. Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson, Franklin County Magistrate J.W. Blackburn and Patti Cross voted "no."

Wednesday was the first Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee meeting for Stewart, Wright, Wilkerson and May. The last meeting was held in December.

May made the initial motion to recommend the proposal to the planning commission. 

City and county planning administrators Eric Cockley and Robert Hewitt, as well as Jackson, have not yet sent The State Journal a copy of McBride Dale Clarion’s RFP response. The State Journal requested the response on Wednesday night.

Blackburn, Wilkerson and Cross — and even Jackson, who voted for recommending it — all expressed concern about accepting the only proposal received.

Still, most of the committee commended McBride Dale Clarion’s RFP response.

“I think the proposal we got was a great proposal and these guys are experts, but at the same time I hate that we had to choose from one,” Blackburn said. “That wasn’t a choice … . As important as this is to Frankfort and Franklin County, I think we owe it to the community to have a broader market to choose from.”

Wilkerson and Cross agreed, advocating for re-releasing a request for proposal — a move that Cockley and Hewitt estimated would have delayed the process about 45 days. The primary concern about a second RFP was that the initial applicant might not resubmit its proposal.

“I don’t like the idea of losing our one applicant, but I really think we deserve having more than one applicant to review,” Cross said.

Blackburn also commended Cockley and Hewitt for their efforts in advertising the RFP — they said they even went above and beyond their usual efforts to try to get proposals. A recent RFP released by Franklin County for a master plan/feasibility study for Lakeview Park received seven proposals from firms across the nation.

Stewart said he liked the fact that McBride Dale Clarion was the consulting firm that last engaged with the commission to significantly update the comprehensive plan.

“I can certainly understand everyone's disappointment that we only had one proposal, but I was very impressed with their proposal that they sent in,” Stewart said. "They did lead the effort 20 years ago, so I think that certainly adds to it.”

Not long after May’s motion to recommend McBride Dale Clarion to the planning commission to begin contract negotiations, confusion set in among the committee.

Jackson entertained the idea of rescinding the motion due to a lack of consensus among the committee, though he did not follow up on that suggestion. 

“We've got a razor thin affirmative to go forward,” Jackson said. “I want to have us reconsider this because to me it's important that we're uniformly positioned to go forward. If three out of seven people saying that they don't believe that the citizens of Franklin County would be comfortable with having one applicant to the comprehensive plan, are we setting ourselves up for unnecessary criticism complaints by saying to you ‘full steam ahead’? I'd be willing to set aside my personal feelings on this one if it means that we garner a greater share of the citizenry to support what we're doing.”

Wright mentioned that thin vote margins are a reality of governance.

“How much legislation is passed every day at the city, county and national level by razor thin margins?” Wright said. “We have Supreme Court decisions 5 to 4 in the past that have been earth-shattering … . In this case, I don’t know if the matter of it being 4 to 3 is significant in how we approach this.”

Later, committee members indicated that the motion to recommend McBride Dale Clarion’s proposal was not as solid as initially stated. 

Cockley said that his understanding of the motion was merely “not rejecting” the proposal as opposed to accepting it. Wilkerson framed it as an expression of interest in the proposal as opposed to a commitment.

Cockley, Hewitt and Jackson have not yet responded to a request for clarification on the nature of the committee's vote.

Hewitt said near the end of the meeting that he and Cockley would work on finding another time for the committee to convene and submit their formal evaluations of the proposal, further discuss the proposal and interview the consulting firm.

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