From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 12 - June 12, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Are Town Employees, Volunteers All On The Same Team?

by Trey Wilkinson

What began as regular town business with visiting delegations at Monday evening’s Town Council meeting quickly escalated into accusations and fingerpointing involving the town’s council, mayor, engineer, attorney, planning and zoning administrator and members of the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.

As the council spoke with Dennis Fornstrom with Rio Verde Engineering about the Redstone Ninth Addition project (which was on Monday’s agenda) in order to discuss allowing multi-family building permits for lots 12 and 13, Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith asked Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie if there were any concerns regarding two adjustments to the project.

“There are no further concerns the town has,” Ninnie said.

When asked by the mayor if the P&Z Commission had any concerns, P&Z Chairman Paul Rock said the two items were reluctantly passed.

“Mr. Ninnie has put in a new policy in which Planning and Zoning receives very little information prior to our meetings,” Rock said. “However, we didn’t want to hold up this project. We feel we need more time and documents.”

Ninnie said the documents Rock was requesting (site plans, plats, reports, etc.) are submitted to the approval board (Town Council), not the P&Z Commission.

“The real control lies in the Town Council,” Ninnie said.

“You need to familiarize yourself with code 17-14-030 of the Town of Pinedale Municipal Code,” he told Rock. “This describes the responsibilities of the Planning and Zoning Commission. We give the reports as a courtesy.”

Councilman Dave Smith explained his feelings on the reports supplied to the P&Z Commission in the past.

“The Planning and Zoning board are volunteers and getting information to them is important,” Dave Smith said. “We’ve been doing it this way for years.”

Rock voiced his concern about not receiving recent reports.

“If you decide to back Ninnie we may not have anychoice but to table items that will back up engineering and create chaos,” Rock said. “If Eugene and Meghan would just do their jobs...”

Councilman Chris House recommended to Dave Smith he attend a P&Z meeting, saying, “I think Mr. Rock does a terrible job running those meetings.”

“Then fire him,” Dave Smith replied.

Speaking up in the audience, Steve Mackey said he had been to many Planning and Zoning meetings and felt “they were well run and professional.”

House suggested the council might need to take another look at the ordinance to determine what information should be provided to the P&Z Commission.

Mayor Smith mentioned to everyone that a workshop is planned after the June 23 Town Council meeting to further discuss the situation between the P&Z Commission and other town employees.

“Out of fairness to the applicants (of the Redstone project) I think we need to move forward,” Mayor Smith said.

The motion to accept permits for lots 12 and 13 on the Redstone Ninth Addition, provided contingencies were met, passed three to one with Dave Smith opposing.

During citizens’ concerns Rock asked another question about the town employee workshop set for June 23.

“So are we flying blind again?” he asked about the next Planning and Zoning meeting.

Councilwoman Nylla Kunard noted that agendas are published in the local newspapers, which provide necessary information regarding Planning and Zoning meetings. Kunard asked P&Z Administrator Meghan Jacquet if she had advertised the meeting in the local newspaper, to which Jacquet replied “yes.”

Rock said he had “never seen an agenda in the paper be correct yet.”

P&Z member John Fogerty spoke about the reports provided by Jacquet.

“Meghan felt staff reports were not appreciated,” Fogerty said. “I don’t want to get out a calculator and figure out the numbers. We’re a volunteer board. It would be nice to have those numbers provided for us.”

Jacquet said before she took the position with the town she was never required to complete reports.

“I don’t like the twist that makes me feel like I’m an applicant,” Jacquet responded.

Ninnie backed Jacquet.

“The reports were being used (by P&Z) as a critique of the (town) staff,” Ninnie said Tuesday.

When asked if she could supply P&Z reports for the next P&Z meeting, Jacquet said she would.

“If we’re going to do Eugene’s and Meghan’s jobs then we want to be paid some of their salaries,” Rock said.

“I don’t think anyone on this council feels Eugene isn’t doing his job to the best of his ability,” Mayor Smith said.

Rock continued with his unease over the town’s relationship with Ninnie.

“You don’t want to let your infatuation with Ninnie get so close that...” Rock said.

“I think we need to put personal pettiness aside and realize we’re a team,” Mayor Smith interrupted.

“I don’t want to be on your team, Mayor,” Rock replied.

“We are a team,” Councilman David Hohl said. “If you feel that way, it’s a problem.”

Rock asked he be given Ninnie’s resume in preparation for the workshop.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe the mayor and town council through the town engineer are trying to disembowel the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Rock said Tuesday.

When asked if the situation between Ninnie and Rock was personal or a question of being professional Ninnie said it was “unknown.”

“When the Bloomfield came about things became controversial,” Ninnie said. “I have an open-door policy for anyone to come into my office to discuss things with me and not once has a Planning and Zoning Commission member come by. This polarization hurts the community. We’re trying to do the right thing. We really are. I have this open-door policy because of the amount of construction going on and the limited construction season. Not only is it going to take this community, but other communities and the county all need to put their heads together.”

Rock said he feels the accelerated growth is causing stress across the board.

“Sometimes there are differences of opinion on what to do,” he said. “I don’t feel the Town Council has been very open to point of views other than their own. Our (P&Z) point of view needs to be taken into consideration.”

As for the upcoming workshop, Ninnie said it needs to be conducted in such a way that all parties come together and put differences aside.

Rock said he’d like to see things go back to the way they used to be.

“I would like to go back to getting information prior to Planning and Zoning meetings,” he said. “I’d also like to see an explanation as to why the town engineer has insinuated himself so deeply into planning and zoning matters.”

When asked Tuesday where things go from here regarding struggles between town staff and the volunteers, Ninnie said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Mayor Smith said he was surprised by Rock’s comments.

“I was surprised by Paul’s accusations of Eugene acting unprofessionally,” he said Tuesday. “We have a lot of town employees who work very hard and Eugene Ninnie is the most qualified and professional employee.”

Before the council adjourned Dave Smith said he had three questions that would be uncomfortable, but he wanted to ask and would then leave them alone.

Smith first asked Ninnie if he feels there is a conflict of interest between Ninnie’s girlfriend who works at Pinedale Properties, the realtors involved with the Bloomfield Project and the Haymakers (Bloomfield developers).

Ninnie’s answer was “no,” and he elaborated. “Mr. Rock is continually going around the community and polarizing this,” he said. “There is no conflict of interest.”

“That was totally unprofessional,” Ninnie said later about Smith’s question. “I would gladly answer that question, but it should’ve been in executive session.”

Dave Smith directed his second question toward Town Attorney EdWood.

Smith asked Wood if he had any ethical issues or conflicts of interest drafting the annexation agreement for the Bloomfield project or a conflict of interest since he had represented the Harber family (Matt Harber being the developer of Haymaker Land Holding and the Bloomfield project) in the past. “No. Everything in the annexation ordinance tightened up the restrictions,” Wood said.

“Ed disclosed everything to us from the beginning,” Mayor Smith said.

“It is very, very suspect,” Dave Smith said.

Dave Smith pointed his third question toward Janet Bellis and Hohl, asking the two if they had met with town employees about town business during their work hours prior to the May 6 town election. Bellis was one of six candidates vying for two seats on the Town Council.

Hohl and Bellis both responded, “No.”

On Tuesday, Ninnie explained that with everything going on during the growth of Pinedale, a lot of good things are happening at Town Hall of which the public may not be aware of.

“There are a lot of positive things going on here at Town Hall that will help benefit the community,” Ninnie said. “A lot of things the public doesn’t see.” Mayor Smith talked about the challenges currently taking place in Pinedale.

“This is a remarkable community,” he said. “Between natural resources, low crime, clean air, the mountains... but we’re going through a change. The challenge is recognizing that change is here and looking down the road to make a positive difference. It doesn’t work to just stick your head in the sand and say ‘I’m not dealing with it.’ You have to be proactive.”

Mayor Smith said the goal of the workshop June 23 is to get everyone on the same page.

“I don’t mean to be simplistic, but everybody needs to work together,” he said. “We don’t have time for petty arguments. It’s bigger than that.”

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