City Council should revise handling of P&Z appointments

Concerning David Forbes' March 3 article on the recent appointment of Holly Shriner to the city of Asheville's Planning and Zoning Commission: Excuse my possible naiveté, but it seems to me that in our "advanced" age of management, City Council would use a rubric or something similar to guide its decision-making about appointments to boards and commissions. Does it?

Each candidate would be asked the same questions (which are ranked in importance to the performance of the job), the answers would be ranked in value/quality according to the stated qualifications for the appointment, and the scores would be tallied — perhaps including some room for subjective observations of each Council member…. The person(s) with the most points would get the appointment.

Certainly, one of the basic questions that should be asked would be, "Do you have now or could you possibly have any conflicts of interest that might influence your decision-making, and if so, what would these be?" How could Esther Manheimer or any other Council member not have known that Shriner's husband owns a major piece of property that he is seeking to develop?

Additionally, Manheimer commented that appointing a "stay at home" mom would offer a different perspective to the commission because the board has only one woman on it. Is she saying that this was an "affirmative action" appointment? My understanding of affirmative action is that when there are two candidates for one position who have similar qualifications, the person who is from an historically underrepresented segment of society is given the appointment. Can Manheimer show us that this is the case here?

I think Council needs to do some work in terms of creating a clear, transparent and replicable process for the application, interview and decision-making procedures for appointments.

— Anne Craig
Asheville

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18 thoughts on “City Council should revise handling of P&Z appointments

  1. laughable

    if you appoint people that don’t know what’s going on, I imagine it’s easy to tell them what to do and how to vote.
    It’s hard to believe that Mannheimer, Mayor Bellamy, or Jan Dave did not know exactly who Holly Shriner is and that there were conflicts of interest that needed to be disclosed

  2. J

    I don’t understand a lot of these complaints. Is Holly Shriner a developer? No. Does Holly Shriner own property she is seeking to develop? No.

    I would go so far as to say that complaints that Holly didn’t disclose her husband’s projects reek of anti-feminism. The underlying assumption is that Holly is nothing more than an agent or shadow of her husband, and will just help him acquire whatever he wants. Talk about your steps backward.

    I would hope that we’ve come far enough as a society that we could at least give some credence to the idea that Holly is capable of independent and evaluative thought, that should could approve a project on its merits. She may even have views that differ from her husband’s; people of different political persuasions marry all the time. All of the attacks on Holly throw the ideas of an independent woman out the window.

    If we’re going to cry about developers, we should at least be consistent. Why is no one crying over Cindy Weeks being the chair of Planning and Zoning. She works for a developer that has had tremendous success in getting the zoning changed wherever it is building; and Cindy and her boss were also large contributors to Mayor Bellamy. At least Holly isn’t a developer herself, unlike Chairwoman Weeks. But somehow, Weeks has escaped all scrutiny.

    There is no rational for singularly picking on Holly, it’s just a political witch hunt.

  3. Jake

    Anne Craig makes a strong case for improving the City Council’s appointment process, and raises an interesting point regarding the quotes attributed to Ms Manheimer in the press.

    The near-term solution to the problems that have surfaced recently in the appointment process is straight-forward and simple: scuttle the recent P&Z appointments, reform the process, then make those appointments in a more deliberate manner. Anything less is a disservice to our community.

  4. Barry Summers

    J – I don’t see these comments as ‘attacks’ on Holly Shriner. It’s legitimate for citizens to question whether someone at this level of influence was being completely open & honest about her interests. Most Council members and the public would’ve had a very different view on her candidacy had she disclosed her family’s financial interest in such a major development. I think it’s fair to say that she wouldn’t have been appointed to P&Z had she disclosed this beforehand. Given the tumultuous history that the Deal Buick development has already gone through, it strains the credibility to believe that she didn’t know this & that it was an innocent omission on her part.

    Furthermore, according to CAN activists, Mrs. Shriner was active in the sales pitch to the neighborhood when Deal Buick first came up for development. She’s not an innocent victim in this, or an unbiased party – she’s jumped feet first into the deep end of money and politics in this town, and she did it by not being open about who she was. She deserves our scrutiny.

  5. chops

    J: “The underlying assumption is that Holly is nothing more than an agent or shadow of her husband…”

    A fair assumption, considering that her husband’s success directly affects her personal finances.

  6. J

    Barry,

    Before we deny someone an appointment to the P&Z committee, I’d like a little more than “CAN activists said…”.

    What I don’t understand is the lack of similar scrutiny being applied to Chairwoman Weeks who is actually in the development business herself. Weeks does advocacy on behalf of her organization, and chairs the P&Z committee. Why is this okay, but being held against Holly? There have been few outcries about P&Z during the reign on Chairwoman Weeks, so I think it’s fair to say that if someone knows a developer, or is a developer themselves, they can still do their job well. If developers being on or near the commission was really the issue, then Chairwoman Weeks would be just as controversial, but she’s not.

    @Chops: So, married woman is driven by nothing but the prerogative of her husband’s financial success? How progressive. You might just want to sit this one out.

  7. Barry Summers

    J

    I’m not psyched about Cindy Weeks either, but there is a serious difference here. Cindy, and for that matter, Mark Brooks, the other recent appointee, work for developers. There’s at least a ‘fig leaf’ of, “well, they know the business, they know the issues, they have the expertise, etc”. This is the common defense of putting people who work for developers on these Commissions. We grit our teeth through this because it’s at least plausible (although City staff are assigned to these Commissions, & supposedly, they know the UDO etc. better than anyone.)

    Personally, I think Cindy & Mark shouldn’t be on P&Z either, but the serious difference is that Holly Shriner doesn’t even bring expertise to the table. Her only ‘qualification’ is that she & her husband & her partners stand to make or lose a huge pile of money depending on decisions that P&Z makes.

    BTW, if Holly remains on P&Z, will she also recuse herself from any question involving Chris Peterson’s interests, because they are partners? What if Albert Sneed represents a developer in front of P&Z? Will she recuse herself there as well, because he represented the Deal Buick partners in the last re-zoning fight? What about any potential ‘competing’ developments, like another shopping/residential proposal in the area that might cost her & her husband condo sales in the near future? These are the kind of questions that don’t crop up so much if we’re just talking about ’employees’ of developers, who are the people with millions of dollars at stake.

    People who defend Holly’s appointment by saying “What about Cindy, what about Mark? Why aren’t you mad about them?” (as two Council members have done with me), remind me of a speeder who argues with a cop that he shouldn’t get a ticket because other drivers are speeding too.

    This is a serious slide towards turning the henhouse over to the foxes, and the public deserves better.

  8. Doug Gibson

    We need to set personalities aside. The only compelling interest here is the public interest, as determined by a Council accountable to the voters.

    If Council decides to revisit this appointment, they’ll have to explain why it’s in the public interest to do so. If they decide to leave these appointments alone, they’ll have to do the same. But one way or the other they need to make a decision, and they needs to make it out in the open. They can’t just shrug their shoulders and pretend it’s out of their hands.

  9. Piffy!

    [b]I would go so far as to say that complaints that Holly didn’t disclose her husband’s projects reek of anti-feminism. The underlying assumption is that Holly is nothing more than an agent or shadow of her husband, and will just help him acquire whatever he wants. Talk about your steps backward. [/b]

    Yes, because I’m sure she and her husband never share monetary resources or information whatsoever.

    What an idiotic, backwards argument. “anti-feminist”? Guffaw!

  10. Piffy!

    [b]@Chops: So, married woman is driven by nothing but the prerogative of her husband’s financial success? How progressive. You might just want to sit this one out. [/b]

    So, by your logic, pointing out a wife who might make decisions that could benefit her husband, and therefor her directly, ….. never mind. there is no logic in this thought process of yours.

    I think your an anti-semite. for the same nonsensical reasons you list.

  11. J

    Pfffffft,

    I realize that you’re upset that someone, somewhere, might actually be complacent with their life. You can find happiness too, I know it. Just go outside and enjoy the weather this weekend, it should be a good first step.

  12. Barry Summers

    I realize that you’re upset that someone, somewhere, might actually be complacent with their life.

    In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    com·pla·cent
    ? ?
    –adjective
    1.
    pleased, esp. with oneself or one’s merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied

    Thank you J. This is the problem: complacency.

    Oh, and snark.

  13. Barry Summers

    I don’t understand a lot of these complaints. Is Holly Shriner a developer? No. Does Holly Shriner own property she is seeking to develop? No…

    Before we deny someone an appointment to the P&Z committee, I’d like a little more than “CAN activists said…”.

    OK, J, here ya go:

    According to Jan Davis, who supports keeping Holly Shriner on P&Z despite her failure to disclose her conflict of interest, confirmed today on Scrutiny Hooligans that Holly is not simply a stay-at-home Mom, at least on the issues that affect her & her husbands property:

    “I have known Holly since the Merrimon Corridor study (the re-zoning fight that Holly & the other Deal Buick investors opposed)… She was very vocal and involved in the corridor study when it came to speaking up for her property rights.”

    http://scrutinyhooligans.us/2010/03/17/two-questions-about-the-recent-pz-appointments/

    Get it? She has absolutely been active in the fight over re-zoning her property, which took place in front of Planning and Zoning. The pretense that she’s just an innocent empty-nester looking for a way to serve the community is just false. She is seeking to gain a position of influence on a government Commission that has in the past and still can affect her financial fortunes. Period. She’s got to go.

  14. If we take Shriner at her word that she will recuse herself when conflicts of interest arise, she would need to recuse herself so often that she would practically become an absentee member of the P&Z commission!

    Asheville citizens deserve better representation, especially for an appointed post like this one. To cite a phrase coined by Barry, it would be unethical to say “oops” and move on.

  15. chops

    @J: Shriner’s gender has nothing to do with my statement. I would argue the same point if Holly Shriner were a male. It seems that you are the one that is trying to turn this into a gender issue.

  16. J

    Barry,

    Thanks for the grammar tip, helping others improve is always generous. Are you really complaining about snark?

    I see where you’re coming from. Not being an expert on zoning or P&Z, it’s a lot to digest. Part of me still thinks people should be able to have opinions and involvement in the planning process as private citizens, and not be restricted from serving on city boards.

    What is still suspicious is the intense focus on Holly. Again, Chairwoman Weeks works for a company that constantly purchases property and has it rezoned; but we when speak of dissolving P&Z there is only discussion of replacing Holly. If such a drastic action is taken, shouldn’t that be used as a chance to purge all those with conflicts of interest? Why couldn’t Holly recuse herself as Chairwoman Weeks has, which seems to have presented no problems? Maybe I’m just misunderstanding the situation.

    Police let speeders get by because of limited capabilities. There is no limited capability for enforcement here. Focusing on specific individuals is selective enforcement.

    Chops,

    The assumption that Holly is just doing this to help her husband out is based on two different notions: 1) wives are feeble minded and do their husbands bidding, 2) married couples are evil and sinister. Why is that Holly is not afforded the benefit of the doubt that she may just be an active and interested citizen? That’s what I don’t understand.

  17. Unit

    @J: or perhaps, just that married partners tend to support each other and often will stretch their own boundaries in order to be supportive of their partner. In fact, if I recall correctly, a pretty important tenet of marriage is the whole good times, bad times, yada yada thing?

    I don’t know much about the individuals in question, but even to me the idea that these married partners are not partners in other aspects of life is a bit tough to swallow.

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