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.