Volume 105, Number 24 - June 12, 2008
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P&Z fights with Town Council
Discussion unraveled into a volume contest and a battle at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, where members of the Planning and Zoning Commission demanded more participation in the approval process and criticized the council’s investigation into a possible conflict of interest with the town attorney.
The Town Council only had a few planning and zoning requests to approve on Monday, but Paul Rock, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, gave a caveat that the commission had voted to recommend the requests “very reluctantly” at its last meeting.
“Mr. Ninnie has instigated a new policy in which the Planning and Zoning Commission receives little information if any at all until the night of the meeting,” Rock said of Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie.
Ninnie and Meghan Jacquet, town planning and zoning administrator, had previously provided commission members with an application review and staff reports days prior to meetings to help commission members judge whether applications should be recommended to the Town Council for approval, Rock said. Now both refuse to do so.
As the commission members weren’t given thorough background on the building permit requests they passed at their last meeting, Rock said, he preferred the Town Council table voting on the requests until the commission had more time and information to review them.
Ninnie, however, repeated his protestation at the June 3 Planning and Zoning meeting that he and Jacquet had provided the documents to the commission as a favor, and neither are required to do so under town code.
Town Council member Dave Smith acknowledged Ninnie’s argument as logical, but perhaps unfair. “We have to remember the Planning and Zoning board members are volunteers,” Smith said. “You guys are paid employees, but these folks donate their time to do it for nothing, so making it as easy as we can for them holds a lot of merit.”
Ninnie and Jacquet responded that the commission often turned their provided information into a battle, and had interrogated the engineer and administrator as if they were the applicants.
“It’s been used against us as if it’s some kind of personal thing,” Ninnie said.
Rock threatened that if the council backed Ninnie’s “plan to marginalize” the Planning and Zoning Commission, the commission would have no choice but to table agenda items over lack of information.
“Who knows how that will back up work for the engineering companies in town and create chaos?” Rock said. “If you’re willing to do that, perhaps you should consider just disbanding the Planning and Zoning Commission and relying entirely on Mr. Ninnie.”
Commission member John Fogerty backed Rock’s demands and said it’s difficult for him to do an adequate job on the commission without the engineer and administrator’s aid.
Town Council member Chris House defended Ninnie’s reputation, adding that from his observations at Planning and Zoning meetings over the past six months, Rock is “terrible” at his position as chairman and has yet to run a meeting professionally.
Mayor Stephen Smith declared that personal feelings were hampering the discussion, and the council would hold a workshop after the next Town Council meeting to settle the matter.
In the meantime, he encouraged Ninnie and Jacquet to provide all requested information to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The council then addressed the requests at hand, voting 3-1 to approve building permits for lots 12 and 13 of the Redstone 9 Addition. Only Dave Smith voted in opposition, out of insistence that the Planning and Zoning Commission deserved additional review of the requests.
Rock tested council members’ tempers later in the meeting when he demanded to know how the council’s legal representative Glenn Myers had progressed in examining a possible conflict of interest with Town Attorney Ed Wood.
The commission had asked the council months ago to determine if Wood had been compromised while representing the town during discussions of the BloomField subdivision annexation. As Wood has represented the developer’s family years before, some worried that he had prompted the council to favor the developer’s interests.
Smith said Myers had “thrown his hands in the air” out of frustration that commission members refused to respond to written requests for them to describe exactly what they deemed as misconduct.
Fogerty and Rock insisted the attorney’s requests had been threatening, and they hadn’t wanted to be put in a position to be pushed around.
“You’re obviously going to drag your feet on this for at least the next two years,” Rock said to the council. “So maybe I need to get the state bar involved.”
Council member Nylla Kunard declared the entire situation as ridiculous. “I went to these meetings all the time we were talking about BloomField; Ed answered legal questions, he never urged us to take it, I say he has no conflict of interest,” Kunard said. “And I would testify to that. I keep minutes. Massive minutes.”
Mayor Smith agreed Wood had only acted professionally, and that Rock was acting agitated and divisive.
Rock then mentioned that Myers should have received a response from the commission’s legal representative, which the advisory board recently hired.
“How are you paying for it?” Kunard asked, pointing out that though the commission has a budget for outside consultants, it must obtain approval from the Town Council to spend it.
“That’s your point of view on it,” Rock replied. “Who’s paying for it is irrelevant. The issue is you’re not going to do anything about this.”
The council members agreed that there wasn’t any conflict of interest and they didn’t want to pursue it further.
“Then I will take it to the state bar,” Rock said.
— Julie Land, director and owner of Happy Endings Animal Rescue (HEAR), raised concerns about criticisms against Julie Early, Pinedale animal control officer, that appeared in a recent letter to the Sublette Examiner. “There were a few (editorials) with commentaries that the necks of cats were broken and that they were drowned and shot as a way of euthanizing them, and I received lots of phone calls right after that, ‘is it true? Is it true?’” Land said. “And of course I don’t know either way.”
Worried that the anonymous claims about Early’s tactics might be true, Land requested the town provide records of last year’s animal intake and disposition across the county. “The information will help us assert whether any abuses have occurred,” Land said, adding that she would publish any record of euthanasia for the public to see. “We will require this information by the next Pinedale City Council meeting this month of June.”
Dave Smith questioned the motives of the editorial’s author.
“An anonymous complaint like that doesn’t hold much merit unless they come forward,” he said. “You’re basically accusing a city employee of misconduct, and if you’re going to do that, you need to back it up.”
Land agreed. “But I can’t make them do that, they want to remain anonymous,” she said. “And we are an advocacy group for animals, so we need to at least find out if there is any truth to this.
“We want information on where every single animal came from, and where every single animal is. And in instances of euthanasia, we have every intent of stopping them.”
Mayor Smith promised to try to provide the information by the next Town Council meeting.
— The council approved Kurt Durrant’s request for a tree relocation on lots 7-10 in Block 2 of the original Townsite.
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