Traverse City News and Events

Debate Flares About Citizen Board Appointments

Dec. 5, 2014

Traverse City commissioners who blocked a mayoral appointment to the city planning commission Monday night are calling for increased transparency in how members of the public are placed on that board.

Commissioners Jim Carruthers, Jeanine Easterday, Gary Howe and Tim Werner voted down Mayor Michael Estes' recommended appointment of Boardman Neighborhood resident Linda Koebert to a three-year term on the city planning commission Monday. It was the second time Estes had put forth Koebert's name for the spot; the other was at a November 10 organizational meeting.

At the time of the first meeting, only two candidates had submitted applications for the vacancy: Koebert and city resident Bill Clark. Easterday questioned Koebert's “vocal” opposition to a proposed Safe Harbor emergency homeless shelter and asked Estes to reconsider his nomination, instead using an ad hoc committee of commissioners to review candidates. Howe, while acknowledging Estes' mayoral right to make an appointment, also advocated for utilizing an ad hoc committee in order to "add a level of transparency and confidence” to the city's nomination process.

By Monday's meeting – when Estes again nominated Koebert – four additional candidates had come forward for the planning commission, three of whom had experience on other city boards: Deni Scrudato (Brown Bridge Advisory Committee), Matthias Johnson (Human Rights Commission), Kris Elliott (Election Commission) and Mike Powers. When pressed by Easterday, Estes acknowledged he had not interviewed the new candidates but felt Koebert was “an excellent candidate” and the best choice of the two original applicants.

Howe pointed out that Koebert's appointment would make for four members of the planning commission who lived within a 1500 foot radius of each other, and said the state planning enabling act calls for geographic diversity on the planning commission. Easterday agreed, noting that of the new crop of candidates, two were from Traverse Heights neighborhood and one from Slabtown. “It seems to me the least they could have for the effort (of applying) is an interview,” she said.

Estes tells The Ticker he did not interview the new candidates because their applications came in at “the last minute” and he was confident in Koebert's experience and resume, noting her extensive community service and history managing 100+ volunteers for the Traverse City Film Festival. However, in light of Monday's vote, Estes says he will schedule interviews with all of the applicants “next week” and will invite commissioners to attend.

“I've never closed any of the interviews to anybody,” he says. “I conducted the first two interviews by phone because the candidates couldn't make the interview time. If any commissioner had disclosed they wanted to listen in, they would have been welcome to do so.”

Estes also points out that some of the commissioners who opposed his appointment of Koebert, including Howe and Werner, were themselves appointed as residents to the planning commission through the same mayoral appointment process. “There's nothing unique here,” he says. “I'm not playing favorites.” The mayor adds he did not recommend Koebert because of her position on Safe Harbor, but does believe some commissioners' opposition “seems to be tied to wanting a candidate who is pro-Safe Harbor.”

Easterday and Howe tell The Ticker their opposition is not specific to Estes' appointment of Koebert but rather the selection process overall. Easterday, noting the difficulty in recruiting residents to serve on city boards, particularly younger candidates, says the city "needs to make every opportunity available to them to be in these positions.” Howe also says he wants to make sure all candidates receive “a fair hearing and consideration.”

“It's a critical appointment,” he says of the planning commission post. “They make some really important decisions. It behooves us to have a little more scrutiny in the process.”

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