Editorial: Rules are for everyone

October 25, 2013 

We realize planting the wrong kind of trees in the wrong place may not be the end of the world. But the explanation for why it happened was a bit startling.

If you missed the news story in last Sunday’s edition of the Eastern Wake News, here’s a quick summary: The town of Knightdale is pulling up more than three dozen trees planted along First Avenue because they will grow too tall to avoid power lines Duke Energy plans to install in the area. That could lead to extra maintenance work for the lines and the trees and cause unsightly tree pruning along a corridor the town is working to bring back to life.

What caught us by surprise, however, is how the mistake occurred. According to Town Planning Director Chris Hills, the trees were planted based on old plans that town staff “dusted off.” Those plans weren’t reviewed to see if they still met the town’s guidelines or to see if they made sense as part of the town’s urban development.

Instead, Hills said, the town wanted to make the change quickly so it dispensed with the normal review process it would require in other situations. We suspect there are more than a few developers who would appreciate it if the town dispensed with its normal review process in order to get work started more quickly.

But the town is unlikely to cut that kind of slack for another party. The fact that this step was ignored when it was to the town’s advantage shines a dim light on the town’s commitment to quality. And it doesn’t reassure taxpaying residents that the town staff is to be trusted with ensuring good workmanship on other projects.

The cost of moving and replanting trees is estimated at around $11,000, again, not that much in a multi-million dollar annual operating budget. But if that mistake is made just a few times here and there, it’s not long before you’re talking about the salary of an extra employee. A former planning director lost his job, according to town leaders at the time, in part because of mistakes just like this.

If development plans proposed by a commercial developer are prone to a certain degree of scrutiny, then the town should hold its own projects to the same degree of inspection.

A devotion to rules should start at the top with town council members, filter down to the town manager and out to department heads and the staff that reports to them.

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