More about the July 22nd COWncil meeting. The Town Manager’s Report (Agenda Item 12), produced every two months by Susan George in order to keep the COWncil up-to-date with what’s happening in their Town holds a few tidbits. Outlined in the Budget Report are several different issues that seem to us require the input of a permanent, full-time Planning Director. Perhaps these issues are being taken care of right now by Susan George so that she doesn’t have to worry about the in-put from the professional who will have to implement them?
These issues include the drafting of the Historic Preservation Element by Susan together with the Woodside History Committee, which will then go to the COWncil and then back to the Planning Cow-mmission. Surely a fulltime Planning Director should be consulted on this issue, which, knowing Woodside, will inevitably put in place more restrictions on building or development. The process is already cow-umbersome and expensive if you want to remodel a home that is more than 50 years old even if it obviously has no historical significance.
In a similar vein, she has received a proposal for a revision of the Town’s Residential Design Guidelines. She notes that both fire safety and “green building” guidelines are not discussed adequately in the current Guidelines, which she says are a “very useful tool for residents… in the development review process.” This certainly sounds like something a Planning Director would have an opinion on!
The Report goes on to talk about other recent Staff shakeups at the Town. Sage Schaan has been hired as a Senior Planner, to take Kelly Posusney’s old job. Ryan Rucker was hired to replace Julie Harris, who resigned as Project Manager in May. Deborah Mallison was promoted to Senior Planner, and a contract planner is in use two days a week. It certainly sounds like the whole Planning Department is in some turmoil – just what’s happening there? We certainly hope the end result is a fairer, more comprehensible planning process – we bet you do, too!
We wonder just how much Susan George is planning to do on these and other similar issues before the appointment of a new Director of Planning and Building in “about 12 weeks”?
Susan George’s Town Manager Report to the July 22nd COWncil meeting points out that she is in discussion with a retired Planning Director who will serve as Interim Director while the recruiting goes on. She says she’s “working out the details” and will make a formal announcement when the details are “done and dusted” – presumably after the COWncil’s seven-week break! We certainly haven’t heard anything more about this person yet!
She also says that she’s been “trying to fill in the gaps since the Planning Director position became vacant” – strange, unemotional language to talk about the leaving of a long term colleague, as we’ve noted elsewhere. Susan, who is no Planner, has been “providing support and direction, reviewing all ASRB and Planning Commission reports, and meeting with residents and their professionals to work issues out.” Hmmm, interesting = how does she have time to be Planning Director!
The last piece of information from the July 22nd meeting was in Item 11, the revision of the Code of Conduct – an interesting do-COW-ment. Despite the cow-and-pony show about why the Town no longer requires an “Assistant Town Manager / Director of Community Design and Development” but instead we will have the Town Manager, a Director of Planning and Building, and an Assistant to the Town Manager. The revision to the Code still includes the position of Assistant Town Manager in its ‘Appendix of Designated Positions.’ These positions are the positions which need to file State required Conflict of Interest declarations.
In fact, this resolution talks about the disclosure categories being revised to reflect the “new” position of Assistant Town Manager (along with Deputy Town Engineer and Senior Planner, and to delete the Development Services Engineer)! We do hope there won’t be another attempt at an unholy merge between a Town Manger position and the Director of Planning though – remember this strange, painful, mysterious mess, Town COWncil! Please try to avoid it repeating in the future!
We don’t have high hopes that the COWncil will learn from their – and the Town Manager’s – mistakes. The lack of any discussion on the reorganization and job search despite the fact that there has been no analysis of what went wrong and the obviously strained nature of Hope’s departure, is very worrisome. The COWncil didn’t seem to think it was necessary to discuss what they hoped for from applicants to this position or provide any further direction to Susan George in terms of what they hope to see in a Planning Director. There was no opportunity for public input into the selection process. While we were pleased to see concern publicly shown by the COWncil in appointing people to the Planning Commission and the ASRB, we cannot fathom the lack of discussion about the process to replace a vital public official whose whims and agendas can literally cost citizens tens of thousands of dollars.
We can – and do – hope that the COWncil expressed such concern in private, at least – but then, of course, that leaves us wondering just what directions they might have provided. While the circumstances of Hope’s leaving seem to be shrouded in impenetrable secrecy, the plans for her replacement should NOT be.
The eerie silence and lack of public dialogue with and accountability to the citizens of our Town needs to end. Both the COWncil and the Town Manager need to take big steps towards openness and good government in order to restore the trust lost from years of unregulated mayhem in the Planning Director’s office. We would hope that Hope’s departure would signal the start of a new, transparent, and fair attitude at Town Hall. To quote one of our readers, “Better demand that council have an appointed citizen interview committee, particularly including practicing architects, resident and non resident, so we can get a true professional, ethical planning director.” Sounds good to us. Mayor Romines? Susan George?