Bothwell calls for dissolving, reforming Planning and Zoning Commission

Bothwell calls for dissolving, reforming Planning and Zoning Commission-attachment0

In an e-mail, Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell, citing “failures in the process” of reviewing and appointing candidates to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, calls for it to be dissolved and reformed so that recent appointments can be reconsidered.

Planning and Zoning appointments have been under recent scrutiny recently due to the appointment of Holly Shriner — a housewife with no formal qualifications — and the increased review power that the board will take on if the proposed Downtown Master Plan provisions are adopted.

Bothwell writes that the current process in insufficiently transparent and doesn’t disclose potential conflicts of interest, and that qualified potential members slipped through the cracks.

As state law doesn’t provide for rescission of individual appointments, Bothwell is calling for dissolving of the commission and reappointing all members in good standing before Council’s last round of appointments — which is every member except Shriner and engineer Mark Brooks.

The full text of his message on the matter is below.

— David Forbes, staff writer

—————————————————————————————————

Upon reflection I am very uncomfortable with our recent appointments to Planning & Zoning for four reasons. I stress that my concern is not primarily about the particular people chosen for P&Z, but about failures in the process. Given the increased importance of P&Z deliberations under the pending implementation of the Downtown Master Plan, I feel that it is particularly important that our appointments be made with full public scrutiny.

1. In 2009 the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue called for explicit adherence to state ethics and open meetings rules by every government body in the state, including boards and commissions.

2. The process through which we approved board appointments on February 23 seemed inconsistent with other appointments made during the same meeting. Whereas in earlier votes we nominated, seconded, discussed and voted, for P&Z we were abruptly polled with no nominations and no discussion. I feel like we failed to provide the public with any level of transparency about the reasons for our votes.

3. One person thus appointed to P&Z failed to mention a significant potential conflict of interest, either in her application or during her interview.  I have learned from four other members of Council that they were unaware of this matter. While it is true that any Commission member must seek recusal from consideration of projects in which the member has an interest, and while such a conflict doesn’t proscribe appointment to the Commission, the failure of disclosure doesn’t square with our interest in accountability to citizens.

4. It has come to my attention that one member of the Boards and Commissions Committee was unaware of the timely application for P&Z of a highly qualified woman with a long history of civic participation in our community. How can we tell our constituents that every applicant was given consideration when at least one member of the committee which screened applicants was not made aware of a serious applicant? Failure to interview a highly qualified applicant constitutes a failure of accountability to the people of this community and disrespect for the people who are willing to volunteer their time in public service.

City Attorney Bob Oast has indicated to me that the only way to rescind our votes on Feb. 23 of which he is aware is to dissolve the Planning & Zoning Commission and then re-form the Commission and make new appointments.

Therefore I move that Council dissolve Asheville’s Planning & Zoning Commission; create a new Planning & Zoning Commission as required by North Carolina state law;  reappoint all Planning & Zoning Commission members in good standing as of February 22, 2010; and reevaluate all timely applications as of that date.

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53 thoughts on “Bothwell calls for dissolving, reforming Planning and Zoning Commission

  1. Barry Summers

    David – Holly Shriner is not just “a housewife with no formal qualifications.” Her family has a huge stake in the Deal Buick development project, which she failed to disclose, either in her application or her interview. P&Z will have enormous decision authority over a raft of issues connected to her pocketbook, and she failed to mention that.

    Also, reportedly, when asked if she had any thoughts on Merrimon Ave. re-zoning, she gave a vague, brief, and generic answer. What she should have said was:

    “Yes, my husband and I hired an attorney (from Councilwoman Manheimer’s own firm, as it happens) to fight that re-zoning when it came up two years ago, because it would have impacted our massive development plans on Merrimon. And now, I’d like to have a seat on the Commission that will hear that re-zoning request should it come up again, please.”

    But she didn’t say that. This goes past failing to disclose, but verges well into withholding information under direct questioning, or even outright willful deception.

    They should absolutely turn the clock back to the beginning on these appointments, and if Council members want to vote for her again after this full disclosure, then they can.

  2. Carrie

    I’m glad to hear there may be some recourse in this matter. The more I hear about how the process went down the less faith I have in how other things were handled. Let’s fix this in a truly open and fair way. Thanks Cecil!
    This should be done quickly and with an apology to our citizens for the mistakes made. That may go a long way to restore some trust in these types of processes.

  3. Who is on the Boards and Commissions committee now? It did comprise of Mumpower, Cape and Davis.

    This may have been just an over site of a new Commission……however the hurry up & push through without vetting or considering more qualified people is troubling.

    I’m willing to extend benefit of doubt, if they will right this wrong.

  4. Barry Summers

    B&C consists of Brownie, Jan, and Gordon. Jan has been there for years, yet missed the fact that he was recommending and voted for a prominent developer’s wife, AND that Nelda H., someone he’s known and respected for years, was applying.

    Don’t hold your breath. After talking to him, I will be surprised if Jan Davis will support revisiting this. His attitude was basically, “Oops. Well, let’s see how Mrs. Shriner does on P&Z…”

  5. HKUSP

    So let me get this right. Cecil wants to dissolve the committee because of Shriner’s alleged conflict of interest (which Cecil admits would not disqualify her from appointment), and the fact that he believes a more qualified person (or persons) were not appointed.

    I’m sorry folks, but with the “transparency excuse” aside, this seems a lot like sour grapes to me.

  6. Frodo failed.

    I learned that because the P&Z Com includes two County appointees that dissolving the body and reforming it wasn’t as simple as I imagined. And to all appearances, had my proposal passed legal muster, I don’t believe there would have been votes to pass it.

    At least we discussed the various failures in that round of appointments and may not make the same mistakes again.

  7. Jason Ross Martin

    Cecil, I want you to know I think you are doing a great job. I feel like you are taking time to help educate some of us about various issues, and I keep finding myself believing your arguments are very persuasive. I’m glad you are on the Asheville City Coucil.

  8. Media Watcher

    Does MX give coverage to any council members other than Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith? The paper seems to be their house organ.

  9. bikeman

    At least, we are all aware of the situation, and the conflict of interest will be known in future discussions. Thanks

  10. Barry Summers

    Why didn’t the Citizen-Times didn’t cover this?

    Good question.

    At least, we are all aware of the situation, and the conflict of interest will be known in future discussions.

    True, but the impact is there. For one thing, the signal has been sent – this Council will allow developers or their agents to wrangle their way onto the very boards that approve their projects, and it will be added to the long list of ‘oops’ that result in development interests getting by this restriction, or that rule, or that ethical concern. Also, don’t forget, this seat going to Holly Shriner means that someone else’s voice is not heard – Joe Minicozzi is as smart and experienced in these matters as anyone in the world, and Nelda Holder has wide respect in the community and deep experience in public service on many levels, including serving on zoning boards elsewhere. These two people could’ve been serving the people of Asheville, but instead that seat went to someone with a clear bias towards developers that she chose not to disclose. That will have an impact on the Commission beyond the issues that she will have to recuse herself from.

  11. “Does MX give coverage to any council members other than Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith? The paper seems to be their house organ. ” MediaWatcher

    Cecil and Gordon are the only members “savvy” to new technology. And they’re using it.

    Gordon’s Scu-Hoo site actually had a live chat following the proceedings. In my mind, that’s very smart use of online social media. It’s refreshing to me that the progressives aren’t afraid of their constituents and instead have open dialog with us.

    So I think the reason they’re being covered is because the have the intestinal fortitude to be open and above board.

  12. Carrie

    I would love to see the other members post on here. It’s not like the XPress is blocking them. It would really benefit everyone if they had this kind of dialog with the people even if I disagree with them, I want to hear what they have to say and back up their opinions.

  13. bikeman

    Barry, I agree with you on the loss of truly qualified members being elected to the board. Joe Minicozzi has the training for the job. How can anyone not see that full disclosure did not take place on this appointment, and that is what Cecil was trying to correct?

  14. Barry Summers

    At some point, if you really want to get to the truth of things, it’s difficult-to-impossible to talk about these matters without implying some pretty cruddy things.

    But on an issue this important, you have to speak your mind – IMHO, the four who voted for Holly Shriner are fine with the fact that she is a developer who has a massive conflict of interest that she did not reveal. For the time being, they are moderately embarrassed that the curtain was pulled aside for a moment at the sausage factory, but it’s unlikely any of them (Esther, Terry, Bill, and Jan) will take (or allow) any action to correct this, and the damage is done. They do not see it (the conflict or the failure to disclose) as a problem; the only annoyance for them is the bleating of fools like us.

    As the daughter of a good-old-boy former Council member said to me once, as we were protesting the Grove Park Inn condos and the shady way they were taking root, “That’s the way we do business here in Asheville. You’d better get used to it.”

  15. Alan Ditmore

    You need to look sharp at the time Cecil. That is water under the bridge now and if you look back at it, the next challenge will catch you the same way.
    Besides, In the central area where Shriner’s husband owns property, property rights and smartgrowth result in very similar high (bus) density construction, so changing the future process is good enough. Besides, this stuff isn’t worth your (or our)time to the environment the way low fertility gay rights and municipal contraception funding are.

  16. Alan Ditmore

    However there is a real issue of failing to consider an applicant. We do need to find out who exactly sat on that application????

  17. West Asheville

    Just sticking with the basics here…and still trying to figure out why an unqualified candidate was appointed over a highly qualified candidate! I think there needs to be a great deal of discussion on this in an open and public forum. Only a minuscule amount of common sense is required to determine that this is odd at the least, or more likely, detrimental to the well being of our community and questions the decision making abilities of our elected individuals. Oh, yes, and it stinks like the bad stuff. The appointment and involvement of any well qualified, highly educated, and well intentioned individual to our leadership base in any department is an absolute windfall for the citizens of Asheville. Exactly how or why our elected individuals made the decision to deny the citizens’ access to such a highly qualified individual and their respective talent is an act that begs to be scrutinized. There is absolutely no validity in the act of nominating inexperienced and unqualified individuals so that we, the citizens, might in fact benefit from this. If this is the case, then let’s appoint the butcher, the baker, and the cosmetologist and really gain some ground. Sure, I think you could put together a panel of everyday folks (like me) for the purpose of gaining some required insight, but I certainly wouldn’t appoint them!

  18. We could show up at the next meeting as a group and take ten minutes to publicly shame the miscreants.

    I’m pissed & I’m willing…..

    This statement, “That’s the way we do business here in Asheville. You’d better get used to it.” is the old way of governing. Back in the dark days, when citizens were really kept out of the loop…..there is a smarter constituency now. Before this type of shenanigans slid by, because only the most dedicated had the time to go in and look at the actual applications. Now we can easily view the applications and compare. The more educated we become to more trouble it is for the old way of doing things.

    I still am in disbelief that the more qualified applicants didn’t even make it to the table for consideration…that is just VERY suspicious.

  19. Carrie

    I’ll go Davyne! I also think the more qualified applicants mentioned should go and ask some industry questions… it will pretty obvious of qualifications when some (or one) don’t know what they’re talking about!
    Oh, I live in a house so I think I should be nominated as well…

  20. Carrie, you and I equals six minutes.

    That’s enough for a good public flogging. More would be even better, but not necessary. Doing this during public comment with some catchy signs would be sufficient. They replay the meeting on the .gov channel, and the public comments would replay each time.

    I truly believe they’ve gotten away with this type of thing in the past because the public was simply asleep at the wheel.

  21. Do know this: Boards and Commissions sort through the many items that end up in front of Council, and, in my years of reporting on local government, my impression is that those committee reports are often treated as gospel by governing boards.

    Nothing which passes P&Z in the next few years will gain immediate credence from me as we go forward, and the minutes of P&Z meetings will be of particular interest.

    Will do what I can.

  22. Carrie

    Cecil: Just trying to learn the system so I appreciate the info- Who/What are the Boards and Commissions? Are they hired, appointed, elected…? Are the committee reports public record just stuff the council sees?
    Thanks, I appreciate it.

  23. R.Bernier opinions

    Cecil,
    If any boards recive tax payer money then I would like to see the meetings filmed & air on TV.

    Right now you have a City & County cable channel along with a public access channel. If board members come with there hands stuck out for funding then have them film there meetings & air them.

    The cost of running three channels must be looked at now. I think its time to see about doing a joint channel & save the tax payers.

    Thanks
    RB

    PS… Add all new content on three channels fall way short all having new shows run on a 12hr format everyday – one channel would work at this time.

  24. Below is a link to a PDF file listing all the Boards and entities that the city has reason to appoint a liaison or appoints a committee. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    http://www.ashevillenc.gov/government/mayor_city_council/city_council/default.aspx?id=3016

    The “official” city council committees are open and the public can attend. I believe the other entities listed are required to be open to the community also.

    I’m not sure how someone gets appointed to any of the City Boards or Commissions. I’m sure someone else cna answer that question.

  25. Carrie

    Thanks Davyne, I’ll check it out. I want to learn these things so it’s a big help:)

  26. J

    I think everyone should be very careful when running around crying about who is qualified and who isn’t qualified.

    I don’t recall Ms. Shriner’s application, but I would have a hard time believing she would apply if she didn’t have a college degree. This is something Bothwell does not have.

    This means Bothwell cannot have a degree in finance, construction, urban planning, economics, etc. So, we’re upset that the college educated person might be reporting to the person without a degree?

    Let’s take another look at “qualified”. Mumpower has an advanced degree, and years of experience in governing, yet Asheville chose the candidate with no governing experience and no collegiate degree. Why did Asheville choose the “less qualified” candidate?

    Bothwell has time and again proven himself to be a very adept thinker. I’d like to think that our fair city will not suffer because he does not have a degree, and though I frequently disagree with his ideas, he has shown a capability to formulate policy. His lack of a degree is not hurting him, and many in Asheville trust him.

    I think it’s only fair that we afford Holly the same chance we gave Cecil when comparing him to “more qualified” candidates. You can be mad at her for not disclosing the fact that she is not involved in a real estate deal herself, but she went through the application process the same as everyone else, and was chosen in a fair and prescribed manner that was laid out ahead of time. Everyone should wait to judge her on her “qualifications”.

  27. Carrie:
    The “Boards and Commissions” include several dozen groups that offer recommendations to Council. Some are formal (required) like Planning & Zoning, Historic Resources Commission, Board of Adjustment, etc. others less so, the Tree Commission, the Public Art Board, the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, etc. But all have been given some level of responsibility. In the end the buck stops at Council.
    However, under the Downtown Master Plan, if implemented as written, some of the historic responsibilities of Council could be shifted to P&Z for some projects. That’s why the make-up of the Commission is potentially more critical than in the past.

  28. BTW, all of the minutes of all of the Boards and Commissions are public record.

    Upcoming vacancies are advertised on the City Web site and would-be members fill out an application which they submit, sometimes with supporting materials (a resume, etc.).

  29. Carrie

    Cecil, thank you but let me know if I have this right…
    The Council “messed up” on appointing members to one of the “Boards and Commissions” sectors (or whatever you call it) and now the P&Z supersedes that of the council from which they were appointed on some issues? I could have read it wrong but I hear the word “shifted” and I think it’s a done deal.
    Well, you’ve inspired me to know more about the people that “represent” me. Thank you again.
    Wish it was common sense.. but then you’d have to define the word “common”:) Whole other topic…

  30. The Downtown Master Plan which was approved “in principle” last year has to be enacted piece by piece as actual changes to the Unified Development Ordinance. That’s something we’ll be taking on in coming months. One proposal in the DTMP is to expand responsibility of P&Z on many projects.

    Those in favor of the idea say that by placing those decisions with a body that is supposed to approve or disapprove of projects simply based on the rule book, the process will be more predictable for developers and less likely to make final approval a political football.

    Others would say 1)that it simply moves the politics from Council to P&Z; and 2)that it would deny citizens any meaningful input into the process.

    My view is that IF Council votes to expand the role of P&Z, it definitely politicizes appointments to that body and makes such appointments critical.

  31. Cecil,
    Thank you for your time.

    Who decides which applicants make it to the table for consideration? My understanding is that a very qualified person’s application never appeared before the B & C.

    Also who appoints various Council Members to the different Boards or Commissions?

  32. Carrie

    Really? I feel like a “Jane come lately” but it’s never too late:)
    So the Council voted persons in to P&Z and then will vote to give such persons ultimate control? What? that can’t be right… is it?
    We (citizens) can’t vote on the P&Z right? My head is swimming…

    On a lighter note-i’m a huge football fan… What’s a “political football”?

    Thanks again Cecil!

  33. Carrie: “political football” as a noun, refers to the kind of issue that some politicians use to score points with their supporters or possible supporters, whether or not the issue is intrinsically important and whether or not the idea might actually be enacted.

    as a verb, it is the game thus played.

    Davyne: Any Council member can put a name forward, but applications are reviewed by a subcommittee of the Council, the Boards and Commissions Committee, which screens candidates and makes recommendations either for interviews (if there are several qualified candidates) or as a single nominee (sometimes only one person even applies).

    You are correct: at least two of us failed to note the application for P&Z of a well-qualified person. I even knew of her interest but was under the mistaken impression that the application was not timely. The other Council member is on the Boards and Commissions Committee. That’s one of the failures of process that really upsets me.

    BTW, Gandolf just gave Frodo some new info. The ring might yet be recovered.

  34. Carrie

    Yay to Frodo! Keep us posted.

    The football reference got way more complicated in my mind. I was thinking in terms of voters-majors in the middle, non-identified to the left/right… too complicated.

    My husband & I frequently comment on having to be able to define words in the same way in order to communicate. He’s a Physics & I a Psychology major. Believe it or not there are many words that mean completely different things in our respective fields:)

    It’s nice to be able to communicate with you, Cecil. Evan clarify, at times, so we are really sure what the other person is saying.

  35. Carrie

    I know Davyne, I just had a hard night. Is it wrong that this is relief?

  36. Maybe junkies. I often wake early, and sometimes too early, but this issue has kept me awake more than anything else that’s happened on Council in my very brief tenure. It directly confronts the issues of transparency and accountability that were key reasons I even bothered to run for office.

    Feeling thwarted on major principles really bugs me.

  37. Carrie

    Cecil: I have a perfect 6am question for you. I lived in Chicago for many years and most of the the political consensus was: I know this city is so corrupt but it runs great and everything is wonderful-no complaints whatsoever.
    I admit, while there I didn’t care, everything was run fantastically!

    So what do you think? If everyone is happy but it’s corrupt (from the top) does the city run well?

  38. I was born in Oak Park and spent my grade school years in River Forest, so my earliest political memories are of Dad railing about the corruption in Chicago politics, the cemetery full of voters, etc.

    The problem I see with corruption, even if everything runs well, is that it enables worse corruption. (I would like to think that Asheville police, for example, are not routinely torturing prisoners as we have lately learned was the practice in Chicago for several years.)

    As corruption spreads, people “have something” on other people, and so they can get away with something of their own. Extortion becomes systemic.

    The local example I’m most familiar with is former Sheriff Bobby Lee Medford – because I reported on him for the Xpress for years. His central corruption involved video poker, but that led to extortion, money laundering, and mail fraud, for which he was convicted. It also led to the disappearance of 327 guns, drugs from 1300 busts, and over $200,000 in cash from his evidence locker (none of which has been accounted for, and for which no one has been held to account); and unlabled rape kits. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that many other crimes were ignored: If Medford was extorting a store owner, for example, by taking pay-offs on the poker biz, the store owner now “has something” on the Sheriff. Why not add prostitution and drugs to the mix? Or fencing stolen goods?

    Meanwhile, Medford’s corruption was widely known by politicians here. I told them personally in addition to my published reporting. Why nobody did anything remains a mystery to me. Maybe he “had something” on many of them? Maybe NC sheriffs are just too powerful.

    Anyway, that’s how I frame corruption. I’m old school enough to still believe that a public office is a public trust.

  39. Carrie

    Great response, Cecil! To be honest, in all my years in Chicago, no one I ever met (for much time) cared much about politics on a neighborhood level or religion etc. It seemed almost “seamless”. It wasn’t until I moved to Asheville and found out people really do care about this stuff. Bit of culture shock! I will never say corruption is good but that really is the attitude there. Now I’m here and it seems every day exposes a new corruption in our county/state gov. or police/sheriff etc. I trust people down here way less than I ever did in Chi-town. At least their corruption made the city functional for all!
    So my personal question is- was I better off in naive bliss or frustrated knowing some truth. I want to know the truth no matter how much it breaks me a little with each indictment:)
    But that’s what I’m left with… frustration.

  40. When I run into those moments I often remember the story line on Cat Stevens LP cover for “Buddha and the Chocolate Box.” The young boy Buddha is walking through the woods and spots a chocolate box, when he opens it he finds a gold wrapped object, when he unwraps the gold cover a giant spider leaps out which frightens him, and in the next scene the boy Buddha is once again walking through the woods, smiling.

    “Oh very young what did you leave us this time?
    You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”

  41. Carrie

    Thanks Cecil, I do love Cat. Although, come to think of it, didn’t he denounce all Americans at one point as godless infidels? I’m just kidding I love that song and very tired so I might just listen to it & nap:) Have a good day juggling!

  42. Carrie, like you I was not at all familiar with how the City Council works, only this past couple of years have I become somewhat enlightened.

    I moved here from New Orleans, where the City does not run smoothly at all. So for me at first Asheville felt like political heaven. That has changed, lol. The real thunderbolt was the Medford thing, and how far the tentacles had to be reaching for him to prevail for many years.

    Many of us are frustrated and angry with the politics of self serving instead of serving the public who elected them. Tip O’Neill said “All politics is local”……so I’m concentrating on what’s happening locally to try to do my part in putting a dent in the self serving aspect.

    The founders of our country knew the humanity had it’s weaknesses and that is why they established a system of checks and balances. My own recent experiences in a publicly funded local entity leads be to believe that any time we stray from checks and balances, then the corruption begins.

    Which brings up my question again, how is it that well qualified applicants didn’t make it out of Burleson’s office to the Board & Commissions Committee’s chair? Which must have been in order to make the “opps,” as Mr. Davis says he was unaware of at least one very qualified applicant?????????
    In a fair and non partial system, all the applicants need to be considered.

    My husband is from Chicago, & went to North Western’s medical school. His Dad established an art gallery (R.S. Johnson Gallery) back in the ’40s on Michigan Ave which is still there.

  43. To be very clear: I discovered after the fact that I had overlooked the timely application of one person. (it was the last page of perhaps thirty pdf applications for various boards, most of which were multi-page). Ms. Burleson did get those out to us. I have acknowledged my own culpability in overlooking that application. (My guess is that I was interrupted in my reading and didn’t get back to it. Then, later, thought I had read them all. That was my “oops.”)

    I can’t answer for Jan Davis, but it could have been a similar situation. I consider it part of my learning curve, and at minimum I hope we act to refine the process of screening, interviews and nominations for the boards. Something as simple as requiring that the name of every timely applicant be read aloud at the Boards and Commissions Committee meetings would prevent such lapses.

  44. “2. The process through which we approved board appointments on February 23 seemed inconsistent with other appointments made during the same meeting. Whereas in earlier votes we nominated, seconded, discussed and voted, for P&Z we were abruptly polled with no nominations and no discussion. I feel like we failed to provide the public with any level of transparency about the reasons for our vote “

    Ok, this is the big issue with me……obviously someone was aware of the need to “hurry” this along without proper consideration for other applicants. That is just wrong….period.
    I’m assuming it was the B & C Chair that did this. who is that person?

  45. Gordon Smith

    Davyne,

    This method has been used in the past whenever filling multiple seats on a Board or Commission. Also – discussion was allowed, but no one chose to discuss. Council members are free to discuss any topic, then the vote is taken, then we move on.

    I don’t believe there is some conspiracy at work here.

  46. Gordon’s point is accurate. I was simply unaware that we had the option of discussion when that vote was taken. There was a call for votes and each member voted.

    What I continue to see is a systemic failure. Whatever the ultimate outcome of this particular vote, I feel sure we’ll address the process.

  47. My question didn’t get answered here. Who sat on the appication??? and who is investigating to find out who sat on the application? That is the main issue here.
    Even without troubled appointments, councillors shouldn’t be doing too much listening to appointed boards and should take the time necessary to study and make decisions themselves. The bottom line is that the voters voted for councillors, not board appointees. All appointees are one more step away from democratic accountability than any elected councillor. We still didn’t vote for them even when the appointment process is perfect.

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