A memo sent from Durham planning Director Steve Medlin to County Manager Mike Ruffin last Friday shows that Medlin changed his initial ruling and has found a debated protest petition regarding Jordan Lake is valid.
The memo (PDF) was requested by the Indy and other media outlets and released Wednesday evening with personnel and other information redacted. It shows that petitioners actually did include the required percentage of signatures, although Medlin initially said the petition did not include enough.
It's unclear what the next step for either the petitioners or the county is, but the findings will be the hot topic at a special county commissioners meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. All or most of the discussion will likely occur behind closed doors. A meeting notice by the clerk to the Commissioners cited personnel privacy and a pending lawsuit against the county filed by Southern Durham Development as reasons the session is closed.
BACKGROUND: The controversy surrounds the status of a protest petition filed in the October rezoning of the Jordan Lake watershed by the Haw River Assembly, with the help of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Had the petition been valid, it would have required at least a 4-1 vote in favor of the rezoning, instead of the simple majority of 3 votes to 2. But the county said the petition was invalid.
The petitioners asked the county to revisit their verdict, even after commissioners voted to rezone the watershed. In an announcement Nov. 5, Siler said that he maintained the planning department’s ruling that the petition was invalid, and the problem was related to signatures. This memo indicates that Medlin has overruled findings by his own staff and County Attorney Lowell Siler.