Mar
17

Two questions about the recent P&Z appointments.

By

[Disclaimer: Scrutiny Hooligans is a group blog. Occasionally posters not named Gordon Smith – posters like me, Doug Gibson – will write about issues having to do with City Council and Asheville in general. When we do so, our views and opinions do not reflect Gordon’s in any way, shape, or form. Got it?]

[Update: Two Four answers (in the order I received them) after the jump.]

I’ve just e-mailed these two questions to each member of the City Council. (Yes, even Councilman Smith.)

1) Granted that there were flaws in the process, do you think Holly Shriner should have volunteered information about her ties to the Deal Buick site in her application and interview?

2) If you had known about Ms. Shriner’s connections to the Deal Buick site, would you have approached her application – and your vote – any differently?

Please understand that I’m not casting aspersions on Ms. Shriner. Far from it — I applaud her for her interest in serving on one of the city’s most challenging boards. On the other hand, if City Council can revisit their appointments in the light of the new information they have about Ms. Shriner (and apparently they can), then I think they probably should.

I specifically told everyone that they could take their time, since I expect they want to be judicious in their answers. When I get their responses I’ll post them as soon as I can. In the meantime, what do y’all think?

Esther Manheimer (in comments on this post):

I am one of the “yes” voters. I voted for both Holly Shriner and Mark Brooks. As I’ve said, I stand by my vote and I am not interested in revisiting the appointment. That being said, I think Council agrees that, going forward, we need to change our boards and commissions application to include a request regarding business and land ownership. That information is necessary for us to make an informed decision.

Cecil Bothwell:

1) When she denied knowledge about the UDO in her interview, I believe she was misrepresenting the facts, since she was present at public meetings concerning the Deal Buick site project and because it seems highly unlikely that her husband was intimately involved in that project and never discussed it with her. Because that project has been rescheduled for consideration next fall, she should have noted that she will have to recuse herself when and if it comes before P&Z.

2) I didn’t vote for her because she seemed unqualified (given her protestations of ignorance concerning the UDO). Had I known about her connection I would have argued against her approval by others. (I should also note that it was unclear to me that we were allowed to discuss our vote at the time. When we were abruptly polled without being given the opportunity to nominate and defend our nominations, I was caught by surprise. In the aftermath I was told that we were “given the opportunity” to discuss the vote, but didn’t avail ourselves of that chance. Learning curve here.)

Jan Davis:

I have known Holly since the Merrimon Corridor study, it did not occur to me to ask her if she had connection to the Deal property; though, I was well aware of the proximity of her and her husband’s business.  Nor, did I question Joe Minicozzi about his employment with a developer that is in a private/public relationship with a hotelier and the City; or, at least, that I thought was employed by PIP at that time.  I do not think she thought her husband’s part ownership in the Deal property was a conflict…she would have to be recused should the property come before them.  I was on P&Z when the Western Gateway Corridor was rezoned and I own property there.

I would have supported her appointment had I known.  She was very vocal and involved in the corridor study when it came to speaking up for her property rights.  There is great quality to business and property owners that understand the difficulties and self sacrifice of owning a family business, employing people and paying taxes.  It is a “skin in the game” thing, I like that kind of balance on boards and commissions.

Gordon Smith (in comments on this post):

1) I know that no one, myself included, asked her to discuss her family or any potential conflicts of interest. I believe that information of this kind is germane, and we ought to do our best to elicit such information in the future.

I asked Ms. Shriner (and a lot of the other applicants) about her familiarity and comfort with the UDO. She indicated that she hadn’t read it but that she was a quick study. It’s Council’s responsibility that the information didn’t come to light, and the Boards and Commissions Committee is working with staff to refine the application process to explicitly offer an invitation to disclose potential conflicts of interests or other facts that might be relevant to Council decisions.

And, yes, the Boards and Commissions Committee has a name that sounds like it was concocted by George Orwell and Monty Python.

2) My vote would have remained the same. I chose Mark Brooks and Joe Minicozzi. Each member during the Boards and Commissions Committee offered two names for consideration. All applicants’ applications were available to all the Council members prior to the meeting day.

During the meeting, as we’ve done for the other Boards and Commissions, there was opportunity for additional nominations and for discussion of nominees. As I’ve written already here at ScruHoo, I wish I’d slowed things down and had a discussion regarding our rationales.

Categories : Uncategorized

Comments

  1. Doug Gibson says:

    Full disclosure: I donated to the campaigns of Smith, Bothwell, and Newman, and volunteered for Smith and Newman.

  2. Barry Summers says:

    I think everybody knows what I think.

  3. D. Dial says:

    In all fairness to the community, the chair has a responsibility to present all qualified applicants. If he did not do this he has a responsibility and an obligation to re-visit the applicants. The community deserves and expects the best, most qualified candidate for this extremely important board. Fully vetting ALL qualified candidates should be the first thing on the Chairmans mind. If not, it would behoove him to try to do better.

  4. shadmarsh says:

    I am interested in reading the responses of those who voted for her…if you get any.

  5. SueTwo says:

    Doug- Maybe your disclosure should be included in the body of the post. Many who read the post will not choose to comment, and thus will miss that important bit of information.

  6. Barry Summers says:

    Yeah Doug – what are you trying to get away with here?

    (full disclosure, Doug and I have met.)

  7. Esther Manheimer says:

    I am one of the “yes” voters. I voted for both Holly Shriner and Mark Brooks. As I’ve said, I stand by my vote and I am not interested in revisiting the appointment. That being said, I think Council agrees that, going forward, we need to change our boards and commissions application to include a request regarding business and land ownership. That information is necessary for us to make an informed decision.

  8. Barry Summers says:

    With all due respect Esther, you didn’t answer Doug’s questions.

  9. Davyne Dial says:

    Here is what Esther says is her platform on development;

    “With regard to development, I favor a system where, with the input of our citizens, the City codifies all the development standards we want and need to preserve Asheville. These standards could include requirements regarding: height restrictions, green building standards, percentage of affordable housing in any project, impact fees that go to support sidewalks, greenways, etc., and other standards that we think are vital to preserving the Asheville we know and love. Currently, these standards do not exist in the City’s ordinances. Right now, projects over a certain size, go before council without being subject to specific standards.”

    Yet her vote for a non-qualified but very connected to big development (way out of proportion to the neighborhood ) applicant, clearly is in direct conflict with her stated beliefs.

  10. Jim Barton says:

    I’m glad to see Doug raise these questions.

    The appointment of a developer’s wife
    • who disclosed this at no point in the process, and
    • the passing over of some highly qualified candidates
    doesn’t build trust in a committee which is being looked at to take a more powerful role in the city.

    Given the accidental sale of a portion of the town square at half price for luxury condominiums, we probably needed to improve our process yesterday. I would like to re-visit this.

  11. Evelyn says:

    Esther, I’d say revisiting the appointment would be a wise move. Why did you vote for her in the first place? Might be a good move to explain, and then do the right thing.

  12. Evelyn says:

    Or at very least insist she exclude herself from decision-making on issues where any, as in ANY, conflict of interest may be involved.

    Refusing to ‘revisit’ implies, to me at least, a willingness to allow special interest to influence development issues. Not to mention an arrogance that’s unflattering.

  13. Barry Summers says:

    On the recusal issue – I guess it’s assumed that Mrs. Shriner would be required to recuse herself from votes that directly affect her & her husbands property (but you know about assuming…). But there are more questions than that:

    Will she recuse herself from votes that affect her partners, for example, Chris Peterson? One could make the case that since they share in a massive financial investment in Deal Buick, anything that affects Mr. Peterson’s finances affect hers as well.

    Will she recuse herself from votes where developer’s attorney Albert Sneed is a participant? Mr. Sneed represented the Shriners in the last Merrimon Ave. re-zoning battle.

    Will she recuse herself from votes on ‘competing’ projects? If another large condominium project is up for approval, couldn’t the case be made that she might stand to lose financially if/when the Deal Buick site ‘Urban Village’ tries to pre-sell condos in a sluggish market?

    It’s all a little surreal – having to argue that developers shouldn’t be given seats on the very government bodies that approve their developments. But that’s not even the weirdest – one Council member on the Boards & Commissions Committee is still advocating that the rules governing who serves on these Commissions be changed to allow developers who don’t even live in Asheville to be seated on them. Oh My God. Where does it end?

    When the Downtown Master Plan is implemented, City Council and much of the public’s ability to oppose unwise developments will be stripped away, and final authority will rest with these Commissions. We’re sitting by and watching them get packed with the very people who have financial interests in the approvals. Adding a disclosure question or two on the back of the applications doesn’t comfort me, not when Council members are openly advocating leaving Mrs. Shriner on P&Z even knowing what she represents.

    This will get worse before it gets better. Council should wake up & realize they are steering us towards a slow-motion train wreck. Take the first step back to sanity & revisit these appointments.

  14. Barry Summers says:

    The Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods has set up a Wiki on this issue:

    http://wiki.ashevillecan.org/index.php?title=Research_and_Information/P%26Z_Appointments&bc=1

  15. Doug Gibson says:

    Sue, thanks for the suggestion. Now that I’ve put some answers after the jump, I think anyone interested in the post will see my comment. Though I guess I should add that I occasionally buy tires from Councilman Davis.

    Esther, it’s hard to interpret “I stand by my vote” as anything other than a “no” answer to the second question. Is that a fair characterization?

    And I guess Cecil’s answer leaves me wondering what records we have of Ms. Shriner’s interview.

  16. Barry Summers says:

    Though I guess I should add that I occasionally buy tires from Councilman Davis.

    I too have spent money at Jan Davis Tire, I’ve bought Cecil’s books, and Gordon cleans my teeth in his secret, unlicensed, backyard dental shack.

  17. Barry Summers says:

    Brownie and Gordon know where I stand on this, but I would still like to hear their answers to those two questions, especially since they make up the majority on the Boards & Commissions Committee.

    Not trying to poke you guys over the process, but seriously: would she have been recommended for an interview by BCC if you had known about her conflict?

  18. Greg Sills says:

    I’m relatively ‘new’ to the site. The Shriner controversy gives me a bit of a deja vu about a huge years-long controversy in another city in another state. There, as here, was much talk about what was unjust and not transparent. Debated were vast preventive measures needed …and all the bogus preventive measures offered up. Much news and blog ink flowed on the rights of obviously-soon-to-be-displaced residents, the horrors of forthcoming ill-conceived projects, sites ill-suited for proposed projects, social inequities, too fertile ground for back-room deals, etc.
    The place? Chicago. The issue? Why, the obviously forthcoming shenanigans, social inequity and back-room deals that would doubtless unfold between 2009 & 2016 as things were built for the Olympics who’s awarding to Chi-town was of course a “done deal”.
    ‘Cept it wasn’t.
    And two years of rightful protesting and activist-ing …could come to naught given that the ‘done deal’ wasn’t ‘so done’ after all.
    Now….those who know me know I doubt many of Asheville’s rendered yet ‘temporarily’ halted/stalled projects will ever see the light as conceived. But the development issues raised in the past, and the Just-and-Transparency issues raised by Mrs. Shriner’s vote-take, will have relevancy even if assorted forecasts for a years-long continued Economic Winter for new (large) development proves prescient. The lesson from Chicago, though, is that once Olympic Loss reality intruded- and as that loss also ushered in an unwanted sense of permanence around Chicago’s own Economic Winter – much of the momentum towards Just-and-Transparent policies evaporated. Despite Asheville’s Economic Winter (wait til the post-stimulus state and local layoffs hit this summer), hopefully we will not see a waning, or worse, an evaporation of today’s momentum towards Just-and-Transparent local government, governance and boards, esp as it relates to development.
    sorry for the wordiness here.

  19. Gordon Smith says:

    1) I know that no one, myself included, asked her to discuss her family or any potential conflicts of interest. I believe that information of this kind is germane, and we ought to do our best to elicit such information in the future.

    I asked Ms. Shriner (and a lot of the other applicants) about her familiarity and comfort with the UDO. She indicated that she hadn’t read it but that she was a quick study. It’s Council’s responsibility that the information didn’t come to light, and the Boards and Commissions Committee is working with staff to refine the application process to explicitly offer an invitation to disclose potential conflicts of interests or other facts that might be relevant to Council decisions.

    And, yes, the Boards and Commissions Committee has a name that sounds like it was concocted by George Orwell and Monty Python.

    2) My vote would have remained the same. I chose Mark Brooks and Joe Minicozzi. Each member during the Boards and Commissions Committee offered two names for consideration. All applicants’ applications were available to all the Council members prior to the meeting day.

    During the meeting, as we’ve done for the other Boards and Commissions, there was opportunity for additional nominations and for discussion of nominees. As I’ve written already here at ScruHoo, I wish I’d slowed things down and had a discussion regarding our rationales.

  20. Jason W. Hill says:

    I have read the description of the process that was followed and the identified issues with that process. It seems to me that when a wrong has been identified, it should be corrected immediately. Failure to do so undermines the public’s ability to trust our leaders, some of who have no track record serving on council and hence no deposit of good will to draw upon. It is disturbing that on an issue so vital to our city, some of our leaders are willing to live with the mistake rather than address it.

    If in a fair, open, and transparent process all candidates are fairly reviewed, vetted, and voted on, then the best candidate will always be chosen. I see two problems with this process. 1. Very qualified candidates were not considered for the position and as such the city may be being denied the services of the most qualified candidates and receiving inferior services. This is unacceptable. 2. A candidate with multiple conflicts or potential conflicts of interest has been less than straightforward in their disclosures. As such, it makes it difficult to trust that the city will in the future receive more complete and accurate information from that same person. (Fool me once, shame on you, etc).

    I believe that after full candidate review, vetting, and voting, if Ms. Shriner is selected, then so be it. Our leaders will have spoken using all the best information at hand. We still have recourse at the polls.

    I have written a letter to Kenilworth Board of Directors requesting they review the CAN wiki page and pages at this site. If they agree, I have asked they write letters to the Mayor and City Council requesting redress of the process and re-examination and vetting of the candidates, and ultimately a revote on the candidates.

    We must demand transparency and integrity and settle for no less.

    Thanks for reading.

  21. James Judd says:

    Wanted to invite people to contribute to the wiki on this topic at http://wiki.ashevillecan.org/index.php?title=Research_and_Information/P%26Z_Appointments&bc=1

    The purpose of the wiki is to collect and organize the pertinent information in one place as well as to allow collaboration on issues (either in or out of the public view). Everytime I read this blog, talk to someone, etc. I learn something else alarming or informative. Keep up the great work and consider using the wiki as a tool for education, organizing, collaboration, etc.

  22. Doug Gibson says:

    I guess I would respond to Gordon by saying that what I’m hearing – from him, Esther, and Cecil – is that Council was unable to make an informed decision. What I find odd about this is that the members of Council are all making it out to be their fault that they didn’t get this information – as if they were prosecutors who accidentally let someone off the hook.

    Bottom line, for me, is that this wasn’t a judicial proceeding, and Ms. Shriner wasn’t a Mirandized defendant. The B&C committee wasn’t the Law, with all the powers of the state amassed behind it – it was a group of three public officials trying to weigh the public good as you appointed another public official. Wouldn’t the public good require that the applicant help you out as much as possible?

    On the other hand, if her background wasn’t germane, then why go to the trouble of getting that info from anyone else?

    And for Jan – well, first of all, thanks for responding. And I recognize the importance of having all stakeholders represented on the P&Z. But I’ll bet you recognize the importance of striking a balance among stakeholders on all the city’s boards. You knew about Joe Minicozzi’s employment; your colleagues on council apparently did not know Ms. Shriner had “skin in the game.” There’s an asymmetry there.

  23. D. Dial says:

    This is not something that is going away any time soon. This one has “legs.”
    Thank you for the wiki page.

  24. Barry Summers says:

    I have known Holly since the Merrimon Corridor study… She was very vocal and involved in the corridor study when it came to speaking up for her property rights.

    …And Jan punctures the myth that Holly Shriner is just an ordinary citizen who was looking for a way to serve the community – she was active in the debate that raged in front of P&Z two years ago. During that fight, Albert Sneed represented her & her husband & Chris Peterson to try to stop their Deal Buick property from being re-zoned before they could develop it.

    Seriously, can anyone still believe that she didn’t know it was inappropriate for her to apply for a seat on this same Commission without even casually mentioning, “Oh, sure. I was active in the fight to stop P&Z from re-zoning our massive investment property just two years ago…”

    If Esther, Jan, Terry, and Bill want to keep Holly Shriner on P&Z, they should have to vote to do so in public, acknowledging that they are putting someone on there who has a serious financial conflict. This “OK, we’ll ‘fix’ the process, but let’s leave Holly there & just move on..” thing is sickening to me.

  25. Heather Rayburn says:

    You have someone with no planning experience at all: Shriner. You have someone with a degree in planning and thousands of hours of volunteerism with the city: Joe Minicozzi.

    It is immoral and irresponsible to vote for Shriner over Minicozzi.

    I wish politicians could take their egos out of decisions and do the right and moral thing. Our lives are at stake with these decisions … the quality of our environment; the quality of our economy; the health and happiness of our neighborhoods. This appointment made me so very sorry that I voted for Manheimer.

  26. TJ says:

    Aside from any financial interest (which is relevant to her appointment), developer conflict (which is relevant to her appointment), conflict of personal interest (which is relevant to her appointment), the fact remains that she is completely unqualified for the position, and certainly not the council’s best choice when given the qualifications of the other candidates. It is undeniable that other candidates were not only more qualified in experience alone, but more educated in the actual field of employment (really? she’s not even read the UDO but she’s ‘a quick study’ – are you kidding me? Since when should that outweigh an ivy league degree in planning?) It is this kind of reliance on “hometown folksy-ness” that is why we are at this position in many boards and committees in Asheville – unqualified people making emotional, personal connected decisions are why these boards are a mess.These people are making decisions that affect everyone’s quality of life and they should, at the very least, know something about the document governing those decisions.

  27. Billy Bob Jack says:

    According to Manheimer she’s a stay-at-home mom. That qualified her.

  28. Rob Willow says:

    Without conflicts of interest, it wouldn’t be Asheville politics. Who on any of the boards has no conflict of interest? From the Mayor and Councilpeople down to the P & Z and TRC, they know the only way to fix things is to get the outcome guaranteed before the first proposal. After much discussion and input they can approve their favorite projects like they planned in the beginning as if no one else ever spoke. Whats the matter, afraid the new appointees won’t roll like the rest of the “officials”???