Commission required to swear in witnesses and others who testify

Published 12:49 pm Monday, September 11, 2017

Many people appearing before the Washington Historic Preservation Commission take an oath to tell the truth. Why?

According to John Rodman, the city’s director of community and cultural resources, the answer is simple: the commission is a quasi-judicial body whose decisions may be appealed, eventually, to a court of law. The sworn-to evidence becomes part of the official record regarding decisions made by the commission.

“The Board of Adjustment also administered an oath because they also (are) a quasi-judicial body,” Rodman wrote in an email reply to an email sent to him.

The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that a quasi-judicial body such as the commission “may not base findings as the to existence or nonexistence of crucial facts upon unsworn statements.” A handbook regarding historic preservation commission states: “The commission should swear all witnesses, including individual wishing to speak for or against a proposed landmark or district designation at a public hearing.”

The handbook also addresses evidence (statements, testimony) presented at commission meetings: “Although a court will not hold a historic preservation commission to the same standards of evidence that would apply at a trial, the commission should still take great care that its decisions are well founded. The commission must explicitly reject evidence that does not meet these standards, such as hunches, speculation, rumors, and irrelevant information. The record should show that such evidence was rejected and that it was not a basis for the commission’s decision.”

Although the commission chairman may administer the oath, certain members of the commission staff may administer the oath. Currently, Emily Rebert, the city’s community-development planner who specializes in historic preservation, usually administers the oath to speakers at commission meetings.

People who prefer to make an affirmation to tell the truth rather than swear an oath (usually for religious reasons) may do so.

When a commission decision is appealed to a board of adjustment, it should be noted that the board of adjustment reviews only the written record of the commission’s decision. The board bases its decision entirely on review of the record, making an independent determination of whether the commission acted properly. The board may not reopen or rehear the case.




About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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