Volume 105, Number 26 - June 26, 2008
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Mayor decides to fire Rock
Mayor decides to fire Rock
Paul Rock’s reign over the Pinedale Planning and Zoning Commission has ended. After four years as chairman of the commission, Rock was fired by the mayor last week when his clashes with the Town Council surpassed forgiveness.
“There was no particular reason (to fire Rock now), it was just time after months of controversy to move forward and do what was best for the town,” said Mayor Stephen Smith. “I’ve known Paul for 20 years, it was a difficult decision. But sometimes you have to put personal things aside.”
The Town Council appoints members of the commission based on the mayor’s recommendation, and the mayor can terminate the appointments at any time.
Smith said he had hoped for a long time that Rock would “come on board” with supporting the town’s plans for future development, but the chairman persisted in being contentious about many issues.
Rock predicted that the Town Council’s decisions would go unchecked without his presence on the commission, which advises the Town Council on planning and zoning decisions.
“There will be no one there who can play the role of watchdog, of devil’s advocate, with quite the enthusiasm that I do,” Rock said.
Smith expects the current commission members to choose a new chairman from among themselves. The town will advertise the new opening on the commission.
Rock had never been circumspect about voicing his criticism of the Town Council’s pro-development trend, particularly in regard to the recently annexed BloomField subdivision. In recent months, Rock even led the commission in accusing the town attorney of a conflict of interest that spurred him to influence the council’s favor of the subdivision.
But skirmishes between the commission and the Town Council tested tempers more than usual in the past few weeks, when the commission members complained that the Town Engineer and the Town Planning and Zoning Administrator weren’t performing their jobs, and refusing to do so with the goal of rendering the commission powerless.
Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie refused earlier this month to continue providing the commission members with detailed reports prior to planning and zoning meetings, and Planning and Zoning Administrator Meghan Jacquet also stopped providing comments. Commission members protested that the lack of information prevented them from providing credible recommendations to the Town Council.
Aggravated by these obstacles, Rock complained at the June 9 Town Council meeting that maybe he didn’t want to serve “on the mayor’s team” anymore.
That was the last straw, said council member Chris House, who has complained of Rock’s behavior as commission chairman. “His leadership was biased and more selfserving than it should’ve been,” House said. “It just seems he had a personal agenda (at every meeting). Things not on the Planning and Zoning agenda were brought up and discussed at length, and things on the agenda weren’t given equal time.”
Town Council member Nylla Kunard said she also supported the mayor’s decision to terminate Rock. The former chairman had consistently raised problems, she said, and didn’t appear willing to ever ease up. “It doesn’t do us any good to argue and accuse each other of things, because that doesn’t work,” Kunard said.
But Pam Curry, Planning and Zoning Commission member, called Rock’s firing a “blow to democracy in Pinedale,” and an effort to ensure the mayor shapes town development according to his own agenda.
“In a democracy, you need to consider dissenting voices, even if you are an elected official,” Curry said. “The commission isn’t a voting board, but it does provide public discussion. If everyone on the board has the same opinion already and always agrees with the mayor and Town Council, we might as well not show up. There can’t be a discussion.”
Rock had always welcomed members of the public to voice their opinions at meetings, she continued, and he insisted on bringing those concerns to the attention of the council.
“I really hope (the mayor) isn’t going to get a bunch of ‘yes men’ on the commission and steamroll everything in the way he wants,” she said. “But the way things are going, I think the Planning and Zoning board would be irrelevant anyway.”
John Fogerty, Planning and Zoning Commission member, said he’s disappointed about the loss of Rock, but isn’t surprised by the mayor’s decision.
“Unfortunately there are some disputes that revolve around personality conflicts instead of the issues at hand, and the recent bickering hasn’t made anybody look good,” Fogerty said.
Rock said that when he’d declared that he didn’t want to be on the mayor’s team, he was just responding to the sports metaphor that the mayor had brought up first.
“I’m not playing a game here — this is my life, my home, my community, my family, my hopes, dreams, everything,” Rock said. “It says right in the Pinedale Master Plan that the Planning and Zoning Commission represents the people of Pinedale. And sometimes you have to hold (the Town Council members’) feet to the fire or ask challenging questions about their plans. To me, that’s almost a primary role of the commission, and it appears (the council members) don’t want that kind of oversight.”
Dave Smith stands as the lone Town Council member who disagreed on firing Rock, which he suspects was intended to paint the former chairman as a scapegoat for the recent sparring between the commission and the town engineer.
“I think the bottom line is Mr. Rock has the courage to publicly challenge the council, the mayor and the engineering office, and I applaud him for the fact that he’s willing to stand up and say ‘I disagree, and you’re doing stuff I don’t feel is correct,’” Smith said. “In the end, that courage cost him this position.”
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