Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sonny West Auditorium

Sonny West with wife Barbara (L)
The Nashville Tennessean ran a story Sunday on the possible naming of the auditorium at the newly renovated Howard Office Building for Lon F. (Sonny) West. Sonny is the long time Metro Zoning Administrator, appointed 1986. He has worked for Metro since the mid-50's! He has a law degree from Vanderbilt University.

Even before his appointment as the Metro Zoning Administrator he was the legal advisor to Metro Codes and in that capacity worked closely with the Metro Zoning Board. The city has benefited from the expertise that Sonny has always brought to his codes enforcement positions. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Sonny for the professional and sensitive interpretations he has always given the zoning ordinance and other codes provisions. Sonny's breadth of understanding of the interplay between the various codes and the impact of codes administration on our everyday lives is second to none. He is very likely the most knowledgeable codes enforcement official in the state of Tennessee. His knowledge of zoning law is vast: he's forgotten more than I'll ever know!

I first met Sonny when I was a young Metro Attorney in 1978. Because of my youthful ignorance, I often asked Sonny for help trying to figure what the law required under the particular circumstances of a law suit. He was always glad to help out and explain what was going on. Back in those days, the zoning board had a habit of granting variances for no good reason whatsoever. Sonny, in consultation with several members of the Council, worked to get a bill passed that required such appeals to be sent to the Planning Commission as a zoning change, where the matter really belonged. The bill was passed into law, and saved many cases where the board would have illegally granted a variance without any factual foundation, resulting in litigation and increased costs for the taxpayers.

The Tennessean mentioned that he was suspended in 2005 for issuing a permit in violation of departmental policy. The writer did not mention that Sonny was completely exonerated on appeal. In fact, if Sonny had not issued the permit, Metro likely would've been sued successfully for wrongful failure to issue the permit. The real issue was that Mayor Purcell didn't want the permit issued. Sonny did the right thing and followed the law.

It is certainly altogether fitting that the auditorium be named the "Sonny West Auditorium" in honor of this wonderful public employee. Most likely he has spent more time than any other person in the various places, including the auditorium in the old Howard Office Building, advising the Metro Zoning Board, trying to ensure that its decisions were correct under Tennessee law and local zoning ordinances and regulations. He's always done a terrific job for the citizens of Nashville.

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