The slandering of John Mack
November 13, 2015
OPINION by OTIS PAGE
Why I believe Planning Commissioner John Mack was slandered — a malicious act to disgrace him in the Nov. 10 meeting of the Arroyo Grande City Council.
Let me explain as follows:
The three Council members — Barbara Harmon, Jim Guthrie, Mayor Pro Tem Kristen Barneich — and even Tim Brown who supported Mack — believed Mack intentionally quit claimed his house to avoid the conflict of interest charge filed by developer Nick Tompkins. Respected Councilman Guthrie was particularly articulate in making this accusation.
But — and this is the crux of the matter — no one asked what was Mack’s true intent in this matter — even though in his concluding remarks Guthrie suggested that Mack had not come forth to explain what he did. I suggest he was never given the opportunity.
I believe Mack’s intent was never to lie and cheat in using the quit claim issue to avoid the conflict of interest charge.
Mack believed he had no conflict then, and that fact has been subsequently confirmed by the FPPC that considered the quit claim issue. Nevertheless, Mack has been slandered by the accusations — he has been trashed.
Barneich wandered all over the place on Mack’s personal issues in her indictment that he intentionally attempted to circumvent the law.
Where Harmon perceived that Mack’s “appearance of conflict” was the issue after considering the FPPC’s determination, I suggest the following:
The appearance of a council conspiracy on this matter regarding Mack was confirmed by Brown. He stated there was a “rush to judgment” by the three that supported Tompkins’s claim — particularly citing Harmon and Barneich.
The perception by the citizens following this matter was that there was conspiracy involved certain council members supporting Tompkins.
Many citizens supporting Mack giving comments in the Nov.10 meeting stated so. Adding to this, Guthrie praised Tompkins for bringing the complaint in his concluding remarks. The perception of conspiracy was a real factor among the citizen observers who saw the contradictions and unfairness in the whole matter.
I believe Arroyo Grande’s respected Director of Community Development, Terersa McClish, appears to be a party with Tompkins to undermine Mack. Tompkins’ statement to the council, and the staff documents attended to the city agenda on the hearing of the matter by McClish, substantiates the apparent intimacy between McClish and Tompkins on the matter. The record here is very clear.
In the most generous explanation of their conduct, McClish and Tompkins wanted the project approved — as did the threesome. For those citizens following this debacle, this appeared to be a conspiracy to have Tompkins project approved.
I repeat as follows: If the council would have dismissed this matter after the FPPC ruled in Mack’s favor, it would have gone away. But by addressing the issue the council opened Pandora’s box with the possible motivations:
To either sincerely resolve the matter on a judgment to depose Mack. I do not believe this was the motivation. This was a hanging jury.
Or to rationalize and explain their conduct on the matter that appeared to suggest conspiracy. I believe this was definitely a factor considering the negative political aspect of the issue.
Or to politically embarrass Mack — to punish him — despite the fact that the FPPC has determined there was no conflict! Whether by intention or not the three did disparage Mack while — ironically –believing and alleging Mack intentionally lied.
The threesome never addressed what was Mack’s true intent. He was never asked. And he certainly — during the “fog of war” — was not given the opportunity to defend himself on the “intent question.” He was convicted first and tried later on Nov. 10. And he was found not guilty but thoroughly trashed during the hearing.
The rational by Barneich that item 12a on this subject was not dismissed from the council agenda to hear from the citizens was fulfilled by angry comments from citizens supporting Mack. But this testimony did not deter the three from trashing Mack in their subsequent concluding remarks after hearing the overwhelming support of Mack by the citizens.
Council member Brown gave a reluctant but moving support of Mack. Mayor Jim Hill gave a precise and factual summary. Hill ended by reminding listeners that the FPPC denied Tompkins’ complaint against Mack because he did not have a conflict of interest regarding Tompkins’ project.
The council’s surprising five votes not to convict Mack was a possible result of the three council members realizing their political interests were exposed and more important than their support of Tompkins. If so, the political reality on the matter was acknowledged.
The vote, led by Harmon after the Mayor’s excellent concluding remarks, is greatly appreciated by the citizens supporting Mack. But the prior concluding remarks trashing Mack added to the gasp of surprise when the council did not convict him.
Besides all this — why wasn’t the whole issue handled under California Code 54957 in closed session?
Why isn’t a commissioner given the same protection that city employees are given in closed session on “conduct issues?” At least Mack could have been castigated behind closed doors.
Someone owes Mack an apology. Probably the citizens in the election year 2016.
Otis Page is a citizen of Arroyo Grande.
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