Should Arroyo Grande judge on appearances?
December 7, 2015
OPINION by BEATRICE SPENCER, LEANN AKINS and OTIS PAGE
Following is an open letter to the Arroyo Grande City Council:
Appearances: The way somebody or something looks or seems to other people.
What is the city’s policy on judging appearances of conduct, if any? There is a certain political issue here — particularly regarding the Arroyo Grande City Council’s appearance in judging Planning Commissioner John Mack’s appearance of conduct.
In the matter of John Mack’s indictment for violating the conflict of interest policy of the City of Arroyo Grande, there are two aspects of the matter of appearances:
1- The appearance of John Mack’s conduct as a member of the Planning Commission.
2 – That of the city’s administration and certain members of the Arroyo Grande City Council in indicting Mack.
The following facts apply:
A developer, Nick Tompkins, formally accused Mack, a member of the Planning Commission, of appearing to violate the conflict laws with a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
The complaint alleged Mack appeared to have a conflict because he had property that infringed city policy. That he intentionally quit claimed the property to avoid the conflict.
City staff suggested, with the apparent cooperation with the developer, to have Mack step down from the consideration of the developers project.
Three members of the City Council, acting before a decision by the FPPC, ordained that Mack should be dismissed from the Planning Commission because of the developer’s complaint of an alleged apparent conflict of interest.
In a hearing by the City Council of the Mack matter on Nov. 10, the following was confirmed: That the FPPC had denied the developer’s complaint, that there was no actual conflict as complained by city staff and the developer.
But certain City Council members continued to allege an appearance of conflict and continued to disparage Mack, a citizen of Arroyo Grande with an outstanding reputation civilly, professionally and as a member of the Planning Commission.
Because of the FPPC’s declaration, and after being disparaged, Mack was excused from the charge of being dismissed from the Planning Commission by a surprising unanimous 5-0 vote of the City Council.
With this action on Nov. 10 there remains the apparent issue of the city’s administration and certain members of the City Council premeditatedly indicting Mack before the FPPC determination.
There is a definite appearance of a coordinated effort by the developer working with city staff, in concert with certain members of the City Council, to have Mack step down by alleging he had a conflict in hearing the developer’s project when he did not have a conflict.
It also questions the City Council’s action and the role of city staff in dismissing the integrity of the Planning Commission’s role that was apparently undermined by forcing the matter to the City Council by the developer’s insistence to have Planning Commission deny the project.
In summary, in a heavy handed attempt to have Mack step down, he has been disparaged. For even though there is the issue of his quit claiming his property, he did not do so with the intent to avoid a conflict charge.
And even had he not quit claimed his property — so what? He served the city well in his analysis of the developer’s high density residential project in Mack’s neighborhood that is critical of the high density project.
The suggestion was made that the Mack matter — item 12a of the Council meeting agenda of November 10 — be dropped. But one council member insisted that it be heard and it was “fulfilled by angry comments from citizens supporting Mack.”
There was a time when the City Council could have gracefully dismissed the issue. But the City Council on a 3-2 vote persisted in its crusade to disparage Mack. It may now, by admission of its error, apologize to Mack.
Because of this, to reconcile this matter — to place in perspective all the “appearances” in this matter — to move on putting this behind us — the City Council should apologize to John Mack and, further, admonish the city staff for its role in this matter.
But, I don’t expect the City Council to do the right thing on this — nor by any action by the staff — and the issue — like a lingering sore — will be continued in the election year of 2016.
The issues are obvious — the apparent conflict of the city staff acting closely — not at arm’s length — with a developer — with the apparent support of certain members of the City Council — suggests an apparent conspiracy favoring the developer — apparently contradicting the interests of the citizens as legitimately served by the Planning Commission.
Something is wrong here — appearances in politics can have decisive results.
Beatrice Spencer, Leann Akins, and Otis Page are citizens of Arroyo Grande.
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