Harrod: Mayor stacking the deck on Planning Commission with new appointees
Mayor Richard Finley met opposition when he appointed two new Planning Commissioners at this week's Shawnee City Commission meeting. Terms were up for two of the planning committee's commissioners, which left those seats empty; one of the mayor's duties is to name new designees to the positions.
On Monday, Finley named Amy Loftis Walton and Cami Engles to the roles — pending board approval.
When the consent agenda came up for acceptance, Ward 3 Shawnee City Commissioner James Harrod pulled the item for discussion.
“I have a couple objections,” Harrod said. “One of them is that their terms are until 2024, which is the same length as the mayor's term; we're about two weeks from the election, so I'd like to see that deferred until the mayor's election is settled and a new mayor can have an input on the Planning Commission.”
He said he is aware that if the item is deferred there is a possibility of the Planning Commission not having a quorum, but that's just one of those things it would have to handle.
“We've had some good people on the Planning Commission; I don't know either of these people (Walton and Engles) personally, but I think it should be something the new mayor should be involved in,” he said.
Harrod's motion to defer failed to get a second from the board.
Finley then explained his reasoning behind choosing the pair for the planning seats.
Harrod said he first made his complaint two or three weeks ago when the board was notified of the mayor's appointments.
“I expressed a complaint then and I'll do it again because we're less than 10 or 11 days until the election and these people will be appointed and they are going to have to work with the new mayor and new commission,” he said. “It had been removed from the agenda one time because I opposed it and then it was put back on the agenda, so I think it's another opportunity to split up the commission — I don't know whether that's the intent of it or not, but like I say, I don't know either one of these ladies personally, but I have a personal opposition to an outgoing mayor trying to control what's going on in the next four years.”
Ward 1 Shawnee City Commissioner Ed Bolt asked if the terms end every four years, then has there been an issue during every mayor election cycle?
Shawnee City Clerk Lisa Lasyone then informed the board this situation is not typical — it is normally a three-year term, she said.
“The reason we (Lasyone and City Manager Chance Allison) made it a four-year term this way is because it's a seven-member board,” she said. “We try to keep it where it's two, two and three (staggering terms) expiring at the same time; the way the Planning Commission currently falls is that you have four expiring at the same time.”
She said the choice was to add an additional year this one time to make the commission terms end on three different years.
City Attorney Joe Vorndran said the commission has the authority to do so, but it should adopt some modifications to existing code, as it currently reads it is a three-year term requirement.
“In response to Commissioner Harrod's comments, there's a very strong likelihood we're going to have a runoff election (for mayor) where I could be sitting here until September,” Finley said. “I see no reason to put this off, and the fact of the matter is that it's my job to do this, so I'm going to do my job as long as I'm sitting here with the gavel, whether I have one day or one year to go; I see no reason to not go ahead and perform my duties.”
Harrod said he's objected to some other appointments and he kept his mouth shut, but he isn't going to do it again.
“As far as I'm concerned, it's stacking the Planning Commission,” he said. “I don't know either one of these ladies personally, but I do know their association and everything like that, so that's the reason I'm opposed to it.”
He said he doesn't think it's good for the city of Shawnee to “stack the deck” on the Planning Commission.
“I think that's what you're doing,” Harrod said.
Ward 5 Shawnee City Commissioner Mark Sehorn said ultimately everything has to go before the City Commission anyway.
Regardless of who is on the Planning Commission, City Commission has a right to overturn it, Sehorn said.
“I don't think it's good practice to do that (go against Planning Commission recommendations),” Harrod said. “That's why the position is so important.”
Finley said he believes Walton and Engles are good choices for the post and they add diversity to the board — as opposed to lessening it.
Commissioners passed the item 4-2-1; Harrod and Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter voted no and Ward 2 Shawnee City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. abstained.
Walton and Engles will now replace David Bergsten and Robbie Kienzle (who termed out), respectively, on the Planning Commission.