Tallahassee attorney David Theriaque, a renowned expert on Land Use and Planning Law held a seminar for the county commission and planning board members March 20.
According to Theriaque, commissioners make two types of decisions: Legislative and Quasi-Judicial.
Legislative decisions, he said, is when a board adopts rules pertaining to decisions made on code, land development and comprehensive plan decisions.
Quasi-Judicial decisions, however, require a different approach, he explained, and are required when a board applies adopted rules to an application.
The Quasi-Judicial process is applied in such decisions involving site plan approvals, variances and conditional uses.
Quasi-Judicial decisions are similar to a court proceeding where the board sits as the judge and testimony is given under oath concerning the requested application.
Theriaque was adamant about how these proceedings should unfold.
It is important, he told the board members, that they understand their decisions are to be made on facts in a quasi-judicial hearing. “You cannot just not like it,” he stated.
The decision in the Quasi-Judicial process must be based on fact-based testimony and expert witnesses. It must have competent, substantial evidence, he added.
Another point of interest he mentioned was that petitions are not relevant in Quasi-Judicial hearings. Board members, he said, must be unbiased in the decision-making process as well.
There can be no conflict of interest, financial interest in the application or communications outside of the hearing, Theriaque explained.
Cross-examination and rebuttal, he said, should be allowed during a Quasi-Judicial hearing.
These rules, he said, are to insure that decisions made by commissioners are fair to all of those involved in the application process including neighbors of the property and those affected by any decision the board makes.