Volume 105, Number 12 - March 20, 2008
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Is Rock going to be tossed?
Paul Rock, chairman of the Pinedale Planning and Zoning Commission, will appear before the Pinedale Town Council on Monday to answer to the council members’ “very serious concerns” regarding Rock’s “action and behavior” as commission chairman, according to a letter that Mayor Stephen Smith sent to Rock last week.
Council members wouldn’t elaborate on their specific concerns, as they have only discussed the issue in executive session and can’t reveal that information to the public. But Rock is convinced the council’s concerns reflect his recent questioning of a possible conflict of interest between Town Attorney Ed Wood and the town’s considerations of the proposed BloomField Subdivision.
Rock might also be confronted about an allegedly illegal executive session the Planning and Zoning Commission held at its March 3rd meeting to discuss this potential conflict of interest.
Rock, who has long called the 900-unit BloomField development excessive and unwarranted, wrote to Wood early this month that the attorney could or already has influenced the town’s annexing and developing the subdivision, as Wood has previously acted as attorney for the Harbers, the developer’s family.
The Town Council approved annexing the property for the BloomField Subdivision last month. Now Matt Harber, HayMaker Land Holding owner who plans to develop BloomField just north of town, must gain approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Town Council to build the subdivision’s commercial and residential areas.
Rock said all members of the Planning and Zoning Commission agree that Wood might sway the town’s decisions on approving the development.
“If the whole Harber thing was over and done with and we’d never heard from (the family) again, I’d say OK, we got suckered, let’s move on,” Rock said. “But as the BloomField progresses through the different phases and they seek review and approval from the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Council, that possible conflict of interest will come back to haunt us again and again.”
Rock called an executive session to discuss the issue at the Planning and Zoning meeting early this month. He received a letter from Wood days later explaining that the session might have violated the Wyoming Public Meetings Act. The act describes that as a commission operating under the Town of Pinedale, the Planning and Zoning Commission must keep all meetings open to the public.
But Rock pushes that the session was legal, as it falls under the act’s exception of holding executive sessions to discuss the status of a town employee.
“I’m not worried,” Rock said. “I think the law is on our side.”
Wood said he couldn’t comment on the matter of the executive session because of client-attorney privilege.
He did, however, openly admit that he has represented the Harber family — usually John Harber, Matt’s father — in multiple cases, one reaching the Wyoming Supreme Court in 2003. But just because he represented the family in past cases doesn’t mean he can’t represent the town as it reviews Matt’s proposals, Wood said.
“I’ve never represented the Harbers with any dealings with the town,” he said. “I ould not and would not do so.”
Although the attorney did write the Annexation Agreement between the town and the Haymaker company, Wood said the purpose of the document was to protect the town’s interests, and he has had no other involvement with the council’s discussions of the subdivision.
“I’m at a loss to where this supposed conflict would’ve raised its head,” Wood said.
“I never gave the Planning and Zoning Board any advice regarding the BloomField matter, they never asked me to. I never gave any advice to the Town Council. They never asked me to, either.”
Matt Harber said Wood has always told the Harbers that his first obligation is to the town.
“Ed’s pretty good at making things clear as to who he represents and how he represents them,” Matt said, adding that he and his family have always relied on other attorneys with issues concerning the town. “He’s a very experienced attorney and I don’t think he would ever do anything that would put him in a bad position, or the town or any of his clients.
“I would bet this is another of the antics being used to slow the project. If people can’t win by using the rules, they’ve got to come up with something else.”
Town Council member Nylla Kunard said she agrees that Wood didn’t have any influence over the council’s considerations of the BloomField annexation, and she has no concerns that he will ever present a conflict of interest.
“I think in any small town, you’re going to have lawyers who represent two different people,” Kunard said. “If we’d asked (Wood’s) opinion on this and he’d given us his opinion on whether we should do anything there might be a problem, but he didn’t.”
Mayor Smith said he couldn’t discuss what the council’s intentions were for Rock at Monday’s meeting, though the council does have the authority to remove Rock from the commission.
“I can only say that on a personal level, Paul and I have been friends for nearly 20 years,” Smith said. Kunard said she didn’t think that Rock has ever demonstrated that he was unfit to act as chairman.
“I think Paul is very interested in the town, and he has the town’s best interests in mind,” Kunard said. “He and I disagreed on the BloomField, of course. I just think that’s one project that will be OK for the town. “We can’t stop growth and I’d rather see it done orderly, and he very much disagreed with all of it. I think that’s basically what he’s upset about.”
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