Are Arroyo Grande Council members good stewards?
October 29, 2015
OPINION by LEANN AKINS
What does it mean to be a steward in terms of a leadership position? The definition of stewardship is the management or care of something. Let’s zero in on the ideas of careful and responsible management of something entrusted to an individual or a group.
As citizens of Arroyo Grande, we really need to ask ourselves whether or not certain council members are being good stewards with their leadership, entrusted to them, by us, the voting public. The very public they are in office to “serve.” Leadership and stewardship are directly related to each other. You cannot be an effective leader, if you are not a good steward of that leadership. It begs the question that if you are not a good steward, nor a good leader, should you be a leader at all?
It appears once again the political arena of Arroyo Grande is wrought with hidden personal agendas, back-door dealings, and elected officials who compromise their ethics. Many in Arroyo Grande, who participated in making a new choice for mayor in our city last November, may think that with this new choice successfully in place, that deep-seated divisions were healed and that our mayor has been able to turn the tide of prior poor leadership. While our new mayor, Jim Hill, has made inroads, there are new and former threats forming to thwart any direction that is in the best interest of our city.
A recently appointed planning commissioner, John Mack, was reported to the FPPC by Nick Tompkins, a local developer. As another resident has stated in a previous letter, two of our current council members, Harmon and Barneich, moved to remove him from the planning commission, for the perception of wrong-doing.
I find it intriguing that Barneich, who balked at the idea of removing people from office under the idea of “perception of wrong-doing” last election year, is using this as a stance to remove Mack. Keep in mind the back story here…the last project Tompkins brought to the Arroyo Grande City Council for the development of Courtland and Grande was denied.
At the meeting in which this project was voted down, Barneich became openly emotional to the point of tears on the dias. As her emotions overtook her, she became very adamant about the fact that Tompkins had attempted several times to bring a project to the council for this piece of property. Her disappointment regarding this denial was clear. The project has now been approved by the council. John Mack, one of our planning commissioners, came out against this project at which point Nick contacted the FPPC, claiming Mack had a conflict of interest and should have recused himself from the voting at the Commission level.
Now Barneich wants Mack off the planning commission. Barneich, my question to you is this: If you personally have given the perception of wrong-doing, does that mean you should be removed as well? It follows logically that you should. Or is this strategy only in your political arsenal when it suits you and meets your political ends? Maybe the citizens of AG need to take a long look at your voting records once you were appointed to the planning commission as well as once you were appointed to the city council to determine if there is any perceived wrong-doing. I am sure that makes for interesting reading. In fact, I know it does, because I have read them and I can say that there are a plethora of examples that one could perceive are couched in wrong-doing and should be reasons for removal from your current position on the council.
Now let’s turn to Harmon. Her campaign slogan last election year was “A New Perspective.”
Now let’s think about this for a minute. What does this mean exactly? It should mean a new way of looking at things, a new way of working towards resolution, and a new way of leading. But does it really mean that in the case of Harmon as she enters her 11 month of being a new council member? What has she done that is new? What has she done that is different than previous council members?
In the case of the current NKT project approval, it is interesting to note that Harmon voted against the prior proposal, but, this go around, voted in favor of the proposal. What were the fundamental changes, in her mind, which were better about the current project, but that she disliked about the prior project? Was it a bait and switch move on Harmon’s part politically? Did she think she needed to honor some of the votes she received last election by voting against the prior NKT project, but that now, in office sees the benefits of voting for a project that is not fundamentally different than the prior proposal from last year? Where is this “new perspective” as promised in her campaign last year?
Harmon gave the impression of being squeaky clean politically, but maybe she is just like every other bureaucrat—someone who has their own political agenda and who will do whatever it takes to achieve that agenda. She seems to be taking a page out of the Tony Ferrara playbook. That does not point to a new perspective, but one that has been tried, and one that we worked very hard to rid our city of in the last mayoral election. These votes could be seen as part of a “perceived wrong-doing” and thus the person or persons involved in such a vote should be removed from their post.
The build out of AG is almost complete. Our current General Plan, recently revised to accommodate the newly passed proposed project at Courtland and Grande, is not a plan at all. It is up for grabs and to the highest bidder. The members of the council who voted in favor of the project, Barneich, Harmon, and Guthrie, have voted for a project that will not add to the overall revenue of the city.
An earlier opinion on CalCoastNews by Julie Tacker states the commercial buildings for the project just approved is half of the Smart and Final center across the street on Grande. How will this smaller commercial area generate needed revenue for AG? Are we destined to have more fast food, pharmacies, and services that are fluff and not substance when it comes to commercial revenue and services to the community? It seems to fall very short of meeting these needs. How does this particular decision support the idea that these three council members are good stewards of our land resources and monetary resources? How is this decision the best decision for AG? What does our city gain from this project? RRM and NKT gain money and access to the council members who voted for this project. The bottom line is that development is only beneficial if it meets the requirements of the General Plan, if it meets the needs of the city, and if it is responsible development.
Does this project meet any of the three listed above? Does this project point to good stewardship and solid leadership? Or is it another example of council members folding to a developer and making decisions that go against the best interests of our city?
Barneich, Guthrie, and Harmon gush about how they love AG, how they are dedicated to making this a thriving community, but their decisions run counter to those ends. We need council members who are willing to make the tough decisions and be honest about what is best for AG. They continue to set aside the agenda which would best serve AG and focus on their own agendas, whether they be political, personal, or economic in nature.
It is time to send Barneich, Guthrie, and Harmon a message that if they would like to continue to serve in their present capacities as council members, they need to set aside their own goals, and ensure that AG is has a viable, sustainable, and thriving economic base. If it is clear they are not making decisions to support those goals, then they need to be replaced by people who will make decisions that work towards those ends. Any organization is only as good as the leadership within that organization. If the leadership is weak, then the organization will be weak as well. This same can be said for a community. It is only as strong as the leadership. If our leadership is weak, then we as a community will be weak. We were successful in replacing a mayor who berated, belittled, and ran roughshod over people. We can replace other members of the council who do the same, but we have to act, speak out, and stand up to people who would otherwise choose to ignore us. Let’s make it clear to them they do not have a choice to ignore us. Let us make it clear to them that they have to listen because we elected them.
The point of this opinion piece is to bring to light the fact that we still need to be vigilant in holding our city council accountable for their actions and decisions, or our city is going to be run by people who consider themselves the final say. If you aren’t sure what is going on, attend the next set of council meetings. Apply pressure to the council to do the right thing. Apply pressure to the council to listen to the public. Apply pressure to get things done. If you are tired of the continued practice of favoritism, or cronyism, or decisions based on personal political agendas that seem to be the practice of some of the council, then get involved in whatever level you can. Just know that the malcontents of AG are back. We will not be silent. We will not be silenced. We will not be dismissed and we will continue to hold those making decisions about AG accountable for making the best decisions for our community.
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