The status of the Sonoma Planning Commission remains in flux, while several significant downtown development proposals are charging through the pipeline.
That was where things stood at the end of the April 17 Sonoma City Council meeting, in which city officials considered a pair of separate Planning Commission issues – both hinging on the city’s procedural method that gives the mayor significant sway in the city’s Planning Commission appointments.
Planning Commission appointments may sound like a wonky topic, but the Monday meeting saw no shortage of residents eager to chime in on how the city should shape what some consider its most influential board – and whether Mayor Rachel Hundley’s recent commission maneuvers were a case of overreach.
Or, as meeting attendee Joe Aaron framed it, “We’re seeing a direct attempt to hijack the democratic process.”
At the crux of the issue is the City’s procedure for filling vacant seats on the seven-member Planning Commission.
Currently, vacant commission seats are filled after applicants are interviewed by a City Council subcommittee consisting of the mayor and one other council member. Following the interviews, the mayor brings one nominee forward for full Council consideration and a vote. Adding to the mayor’s Planning Commission gravitas is the decision of whether or not to reappoint commissioners when their terms are up.
In recent months there’s been a flurry of Planning Commission changes, with two members being termed out, Mayor Hundley’s decision not to reappoint Commissioner Ron Wellender, the subsequent resignation of Commissioner Chip Roberson in protest, and Hundley’s controversial nomination of Commissioner James Bohar who, his critics say, may hold a bias against the upcoming First Street East Project.
On Monday, the Council was set to consider Hundley’s nomination of Lynda Corrado to a vacant seat on the Commission. But, as things have tended to be regarding the Planning Commission of late, Corrado’s path to city service would be a rocky one. That much was evident by the first public commenter of the evening, former City Councilmember Ken McTaggart, who, in the first of several instances during the meeting in which he skirted the boundaries of meeting decorum, “begged” Hundley to “be a little less lethal” in her decisions before challenging her to a public debate over the role of the mayor in the selection of commission appointments.
It all set the scene for a lively meeting that, in light of the recent commission shakeup, came down to the question of whether the Mayor holds too much leverage over appointments.
Local resident Fred Allebach said he was satisfied with the Commission moves the Mayor had made, but called McTaggert’s line of questioning a “perfect example of the kind of circus atmosphere surrounding (applicants to) the Commission” that can prevent qualified candidates from stepping forward.
Referring to Corrado’s qualifications being vetted in a public forum, Allebach wondered, “Who’s going to risk a ‘You’re fired!’” just by applying to serve on a commission.
Several people spoke to the nominee’s fairmindedness; Corrado herself gave an overview of her background as a U.S. sailing judge and project manager for construction with AT&T.
Former councilmember and current chair of the Community Services and Environment Commission Ken Brown noted the plethora of unfilled seats on city commissions.
“I implore you to get going and come to a decision” about how the appointment process would proceed, said Brown.