Pinedale Mayor terminates Brito from P&Z Board
Paul Rock and Barbara Boyce reappointed to 3-year terms
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
Original story posted August 28, 2007 | Revised August 29, 2007
Editor’s Comment, Wednesday, August 29, 2007: The Town of Pinedale, contacted us on Wednesday (August 29) to request a change correction to the headline on this story. “We are requesting a correction be made to your headline “Town Council terminates Brito from P&z Board.” As your extensive notes online indicate, Robert Brito was dismissed by the mayor. The town council approved the mayor’s action with a unanimous vote of approval. If you would please amend your headline, it would be more accurate.” We have changed the headline to more accurately reflect this termination was an action by Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith, done with the support of the Pinedale Town Council. – Dawn Ballou, Editor, Pinedale Online!
Editor's comment: Below are Reporter's Notes for just the Planning & Zoning board-related discussions of the Monday, August 27, 2007 regular meeting of the Pinedale Town Council. These notes do not reflect other business or discussions conducted at that meeting. Click on the related links at the end of these notes to get to audio files of the portions of the meeting related to the P&Z board discussions. The first audio file is prior to the executive session. The second file is the portion of the meeting after the executive session. There are also links to the earlier stories in the Pinedale Roundup related to this topic. See Thursday's edition of both local local papers, the Pinedale Roundup, www.pinedaleroundup.com, and the Sublette Examiner, www.subletteexaminer.com, for more indepth stories about this meeting.
The Pinedale Town Council held their regular meeting Monday night, August 27, with the most contentious portion being the citizen concern segment which focused on the recent apparent abrupt termination of three members of the Pinedale Planning and Zoning board (Barbara Boyce, Paul Rock and Chairman Robert Brito).
P&Z Board Chairman Robert Brito was the first one to speak to the Town Council during the public comment session, asking Mayor Steve Smith if he still intended on terminating him from the Planning and Zoning Commission since he had not received a letter saying anything about it. Smith did not answer his question directly, saying that would be discussed later in the meeting.
Not receiving a definitive answer, Brito went on to comment on his research of Wyoming state statutes which he said say a mayor does not have authority to remove anyone serving from the Planning & Zoning board. Smith responded by saying he wasn’t asking for Brito to be dismissed from the Board, he asked for his resignation.
Brito recounted a telephone conversation between the two in which he said the Mayor said, “You resign or you will be terminated from the board.” When Brito asked for what reason, Smith responded, “Because I’m the Mayor. I can do that.” When asked again for what reasons, Brito said Smith responded, “Because I want to make changes on the board.”
In further discussions regarding the exact wording and meaning of the state statutes, Town attorney Ed Wood responded to Brito saying, in his opinion, Brito’s reading of the state statutes was incorrect. “It is my opinion based on that ordinance, plus case law in the state of Wyoming, that the Mayor does have authority to remove appointed board members.”
Town Council member Gary Heuck asked Ed Wood if the Town Council had the authority to remove a board member? “No. Not in my opinion. In my opinion, the Mayor has authority to remove them without the Town Council’s approval, or disapproval for that matter.” He described case law where a mayor could remove a town chief of police over the council’s objections, and in his opinion a chief of police is a much more important person than volunteer board members.
Brito challenged Wood that he had changed his opinion from a week ago. Wood said no, “I don’t know where you got that my opinion was that the mayor could not remove a member of the Planning & Zoning Board.” He said that he and Brito had never personally spoken to each other. Wood said he had spoken with Brito’s attorney and had explained to him that, “it was my opinion that the mayor certainly had that power.”
Brito then tried to comment on issues he had with the amount of time it took in getting paperwork processed and get to the board by town Planning & Zoning administer, Meghan Jacquet. Upon specifically talking about the amount of time it took to get the request by Union Telephone Company for a variance to place antennas on Stockman’s Restaurant and Lounge, Councilman Gary Heuck shut him down saying, “We’re not going to listen to this. I’m telling you right now, we’re not going to listen to it. We have already discussed this. We have already acted on it, so just forget it.” Brito said this was his citizen concern, and Heuck responded, “We’ve already acted on it, and it’s over.”
Councilman Chris House told Brito, “Robert, you’ve been asked to resign. You don’t want to. You’re going to do whatever. Don’t waste our time please.”
Brito asked how this was wasting their time by him letting them know what the board is doing? Councilman Chris House said, “I find it insulting that you think we don’t know what the board is doing.” Heuck said, “We know a lot of what is going on, and we’d just as soon you resign,” adding, “We’ve already went through this. We’ve already passed this. It’s done, over with, and we don’t want to hear about it, we don’t want to talk about it.”
Brito said the people of Pinedale need to know what is happening. Heuck said the people who want to hear about it are here at the meeting right now and that members of the newspaper were present. Mayor Smith reminded Brito that this meeting and all the Planning and Zoning meetings are open to the public and people can attend if they have an interest in knowing what is going on.
Brito and the Council then had a discussion about the requirement for P&Z Board members who can serve on the board to live within a one-mile radius of town, whereas the advertisement for the Town Master Plan Steering Committee solicitation, and the announcement advertising for new P&Z board members, allowed for interested people who lived within a five-mile radius. Smith said he had been approached by people who have a vested interest in the town, but don’t live in the town, who wanted to participate in the planning process or wanted to be on the Planning & Zoning board. Attorney Ed Wood explained that the P&Z advertisement was in error and conflicted with the current town ordinance which allows only people who live within a one-mile radius to serve on the board. There was discussion about five miles, 10 miles, 20 miles and where to draw the line on the P&Z board and steering committee.
Action item: Ultimately, Mayor Smith asked for a motion to have Ed Wood draft a change in the ordinance to expand the radius for those who could serve on the town Planning & Zoning Board from one mile to five miles. The motion failed.
Brito made further comments regarding several complaints he has brought forward to the Town about Planning & Zoning Administrator Meghan Jacquet, citing rudeness, incompetence and mistreatment of the public “which needs to be addressed”. He said he has heard from people who would never build in Pinedale because of what is happening in the Planning & Zoning department. He said he had problems with her insistence to have the P&Z board listen to an item that had not been advertised as being on the agenda and the concerning party didn’t have representation present when the item was heard and acted upon. He wanted to be sure everyone was treated fairly and items were advertised. He said that was why some of the P&Z board members were now attending Town Council meetings to make sure their information was being brought to the Council correctly by Jacquet. “That has to be looked into, that we got information that was incorrect,” Brito said. “We were given misinformation from the Planning & Zoning Administrator.” No one from the Town Council responded to his concerns about Jacquet.
That ended Robert Brito’s comments to the Council. After a diversion to comments about the feral cat problem in Pinedale, Paul Rock returned the public comment discussion back to the P&Z matters. He asked for clarification of facts and the comment from the Mayor that he and Barbara Boyce were not on the board until their appointments are updated and what the legal justification was for that. Attorney Ed Wood responded, “The term expired. The term is three years.” Mayor Smith added the town clerk has gone back to 2002 to see if the terms had been reappointed, and they haven’t, so it was just a matter of reappointing somebody to those positions. “I’ve encouraged yourself and Barbara Boyce both to reapply,” Mayor Smith said, “and I see you both have done so.” … “A good conspiracy theory is a lot of fun, but it is just a matter of the terms expiring and needing to be reappointed. So we’re trying to wrap that up, not only on Planning and Zoning Board, but we’re looking at appointment dates and expiration dates on all the boards: Park and Tree, Airport, Recycling…”
Ed Wood added that when the term is over, that position is vacant. “You and Barbara tended to continue to serve. But as a practical and legal matter, that term, that office, was open. It’s not that you are being replaced. It’s just that somebody needs to be appointed to that position.”
Rock asked about who would be the commission members serving at the upcoming P&Z meeting? Wood explained it would be the people who have valid terms. Boyce pointed out with three members gone, it would leave only two members on the board and there wouldn’t be a quorum. Rock expressed concern about not being able to take action on business items such as upcoming subdivision annexation matters. Smith responded that the meeting would have a quorum, but didn’t elaborate. He said there arguably hasn’t been a quorum on many occasions since their terms have expired, but he didn’t want to have to go as far as to say they had to reexamine all the votes since their terms expired. Planning and Zoning is only a recommending body, giving information to the action-taking bodies of the Town Council or County Commissioners. Asked when new members would be appointed, Ed Wood responded by saying the Council could appoint at any time if they wanted, but since they have called for applications, it would be considerate of the people who have applied to wait until the advertising time period was over. However, they could appoint someone prior to that time period.
“Paul and Barbara, there is no malice intended,” Gary Heuck told Rock and Boyce. “It’s just something that happened and all we need to do is rectify the situation.”
Rock asked the Council if Robert was on or off the P&Z Board, and was told they would decide that in executive session. Rock asked if that was a proper use of executive session, and Ed Wood confirmed yes, it was a “personnel issue”. Rock asked why not discuss it in the open session? Smith said this was the Town’s discretion, and he wanted to discuss it in executive session if the Council was agreeable. Others mentioned possible liability for having those discussions in the open meeting. (No one mentioned that Robert Brito is already suing the Town on an earlier dispute over the town elections.)
We (this reporter, Pinedale Online) asked Mayor Smith what “changes” the Mayor was referring to in his telephone conversation with Robert Brito that he would like to see made to the P&Z board, and why? Mayor Smith said, “I think what I told Robert over the phone was that he asked why I was asking for his resignation and I explained that I saw a need for a change on the board and the way I was going to facilitate that change was by asking for his resignation.”
Paul Rock asked if that answered Pinedale Online’s question, which I answered no. Mayor Smith added, “I think rather than air all of it, I think leave it at the fact that I’ve asked for Robert’s resignation. He was asked to resign and we’re going to go from there.” Rock said, “You don’t have any idea what those changes are you would like to see?” Smith responded, “I have a lot of ideas. I could list them for you, but I choose not to do so at this time.” Rock asked, “Why?” Smith responded, “It is just my decision not to share those.”
Robert Brito asked to be allowed in the executive session since the discussion was going to be about him, to which the Mayor agreed and said he planned to invite him.
John Sulenta Jr. was the last one to make a comment as a concerned citizen, saying the last thing he wanted to see was a board created that represented a special interest group, whether it be an administration, developer, engineer or whoever.
The Council then recessed into executive session with Robert Brito, and the public was excused from the room. A few minutes later Brito came out saying he had said he didn’t want to answer questions without his lawyer present, so they excused him.
Action items: Upon resuming the regular session, Mayor Smith recommended to the Council reappointing Barbara Boyce to the P&Z board for three years starting September 1st, 2007. This was voted on and passed unanimously. He then recommended reappointing Paul Rock to a 3-year term starting September 1, 2007. All, except for Dave Hohl, voted yes, so that also passed.
Action item: Mayor Smith then continued, speaking to Robert Brito. “Robert, I’m sorry you chose not to stay with us in session, but having considered the issue further, it is my decision to dismiss you from the board of the Pinedale Planning and Zoning, effective immediately. But I thank you for your service and volunteerism for this town.”
Action item: Councilman Heuck then made a motion that the Council concur with the Mayor’s actions on the dismissal of Robert Brito from the Planning and Zoning board. The motion was seconded. The board was unanimous going on the record in support of the Mayor’s decision.
Portion of Pinedale Town Council regular meeting edited for just Brito and P&Z-related comments - (3,833K, 32:42 min, mp3 audio)
Aug. 27, 2007 (Pinedale Town Council regular meeting after reconvening from the executive session - (210K, 1:47 min, mp3 audio file)
P&Z board ‘coup’ - (Pinedale Roundup, August 23, 2007, by Jennie Oemig)
Council: Are they in or out? - (Pinedale Roundup, Aug. 16, 2007, by Jennie Oemig)
Pinedale Town Council Meeting for August 27, 2007 - KPIN news report - (0:47 min, 334K, mp3 audio file) KPIN 101.1 FM Morning News, August 28, 2007