A Lafayette City Council vote adopting a revised conflict of interest policy for Planning and Design Review Commissioners triggered the mass resignation of five of seven serving planning commissioners this week – making it impossible for the commission to achieve a quorum and leaving the city scrambling for a way to field a replacing body.
Commissioners Jeanne Ateljevich, Tom Chastain, Will Lovitt, Peter Gutzwiller, Patricia Curtin submitted their resignations immediately after Monday’s 3-2 council vote in favor of a policy requiring commissioners to resign from their respective commissions in the event of a potential conflict of interest scenario.
Mayor Don Tatzin and council member Mike Anderson voted against the policy.
Commissioners and members of the public speaking on the item Monday expressed concern with the “draconian” appearance of forced resignation when no wrong has come to light and said the move will make it hard for the city to find volunteer commission members to serve on the respective commissions.
Those fears were realized that night and the next day as resignation letters were tendered, some not without a little heat attached.
“It is sad when a town’s democratic body votes to disenfranchise a class of its citizens,” former commissioner Tom Chastain wrote in his tendered resignation. “For illustration of this you only need to listen to the voices of the Council, one of which described how a conflict of interest on an issue resulted in his declaring the need to recuse himself. Apparently the same remedy is not suitable for commissioners.”
The policy was drafted and revised to address potential cases of conflict at the commission level, but took the extra step of demanding resignation instead of recusal – which allowed commissioners to exempt themselves from discussions regarding projects they may have been involved with personally or professionally.
“I am truly shocked that our leaders believe one is guilty before proven innocent,” wrote Commissioner Patricia Curtin. “This is not a rule I can stand by; it is a rule that runs counter to our democracy. I am equally sickened that the Council had the audacity to exempt themselves from this rule. In doing so they have created a false hierarchy I want no part of and is not healthy for our City or any city.”
A scheduled meeting of the planning commission set for April 2 has been canceled as a result of the decision and subsequent resignations. Mayor Don Tatzin has suggested that the City Council convene a meeting that evening to discuss next steps.