Controversial pick for planning commission

By Rudy Hemmann
The Surveyor

Controversy swirled in the council chambers Tuesday evening as the Berthoud town board debated the pros and cons of two potential candidates for an open seat on the planning commission.

Former Trustee Dick Shepard was eventually appointed to the commission over Tim Hardy on a split 5-2 vote, with Trustees Mike Henning and Paul Alaback casting “No” votes.

Commission Chairman Scott Banzhaf reported to the trustees that both candidates had been interviewed by an ad hoc committee comprised of himself, Town Administrator Mike Hart and Trustee Suzie White.

Banzhaf stated the interviews “focused on understanding some of the current issues, understanding the responsibility of the term (on the commission) and the dedication it would take to fulfill, compatibility with the commission as it exists today and looked for the person that exhibited passion and a vision for the community.”

Following the interviews, Banshaf said, the committee reached a unanimous decision and that their choice for the open seat on the commission was Shepard.

White stated each candidate met with the selection committee and each was interviewed for well over an hour. She went on to inform the board the candidates were quizzed regarding “their views on growth … land use regulations, the planning process and what that entails … and long term planning.”

She indicated the candidates were very close to each other but that a few things which came out in the interview process that “tipped the scales in favor of Shepard. As an example she stated Shepard was very supportive of the public having a voice in land use decisions and spoke in favor of sustainable growth. She quoted Shepard as saying, “Berthoud should be a vibrant thriving community in charge of its own destiny.”

“He cares a great deal about the community,” said White.

Alaback stated he would like to hear from the members of the committee what three key elements for choosing Shepard over Hardy were.

Banzhaf stated Shepard had six years of experience on the town board and as liaison between the town board and the planning commission to draw upon.

White noted during the interview process that Hardy had expressed an interest in serving on the historic preservation committee by stating that might be a better fit for him.

Alaback voiced concern with Shepard having been defeated in the recent town board municipal election in April.

“We’re in kind of an awkward situation here because of the situation that Dick Shepard is in,” said Alaback, “He is a long serving member of the town board and the planning commission. He is a well-known quantity” … “and he was not re-elected last April. For us to put him back on the planning commission” … “a lot of people in the community perceive that as the board attempting to rewrite the results of the election.”

Alaback brought up many of the issues which the town agonized over prior to the vote in April.

“In a lot of ways, our decision here is because of the specific circumstances of Dick Shepard having not been re-elected” … “I think a lot of people view this as a litmus test for this board,” said Alaback.

Trustee Henning supported Alaback’s concerns. However, other board members at first appeared somewhat shocked that Alaback’s statements. Henning suggested, in light of the situation, the trustees should vote to reject both candidates, go through another round of advertising the vacancy on the commission, and a new set of interviews.

Town Clerk Mary Cowdin had stated earlier in the meeting that the vacancy had been advertised for at least three weeks in the local newspaper, a notice of the opening had been included in the May utility billing, as well as on the town website.

“Short of going door to door I don’t know what else we could have done,” Cowdin said.

“I’m going to add a little perspective to the notion that someone is disqualified from serving the town in other capacities if they don’t win an election,” Mayor David Gregg said. “Eight people ran for three seats (on the town board). I would hate to think that the five that didn’t win are disqualified.”

Gregg added that it would be unfathomable not including former Trustee Thomas Jones as a valuable member of the utility advisory committee even though he lost in the election for trustee.

After nearly 40 minutes of discussion a motion to authorize Shepard’s appointment to the planning commission with his term to end August 31, 2016 was made, seconded and approved.

In other town board news

– Trustees heard a presentation regarding the 2013 audit of town finances. The results of the audit indicated that staff had made great progress in closing loopholes in the town’s financial reporting and accounting practices. The gains the town has made in fixing these deficiencies were characterized as being “leaps and bounds” ahead of where the town stood two years ago.

The board voted unanimously to accept the results of the 2013 audit of the town’s finances.

– Additions to the community garden located in Pioneer Park were discussed at great length by the board. A steering committee comprised of neighborhood residents that oversees the garden placed a request with town staff for the following upgrades to community garden infrastructure: an upgraded irrigation system, a perimeter fence, a concrete pad with a garden shed atop for the housing of supplies and gardening tools.

Most of the board members were reticent about spending public funds on a project which would benefit a relatively small segment of the town’s population. Henning noted the surplus vegetables harvested from the garden are given to the local food bank.

Discussion of the issue lasted for more than an hour with Henning and Alaback favoring completion of the irrigation upgrade and the garden shed projects as soon as possible. Parks and Recreation Director Jeremy Olinger and Hart estimated the cost of these two improvements to be well under $8,500.

The board majority let it be known through their comments that they favored having the request go through the proper channels and have it be subject to the same public scrutiny as any other budgeted item in next year’s budget.

Hart made the suggestion, to which the board agreed, that staff would place the improvements in the budget for next year thereby allowing the transparency that most board members wanted.

– The board also heard an informative presentation by Berthoud Historical Society board member Sherrie Merrow regarding the latest developments and goings-on at the Little Thompson Valley Pioneer Museum and the McCarty-Fickel Home Museum, as well as some upcoming events which will be hosted by historical society volunteers.

The board members closed out the evening by voting to go into executive session to discuss negotiations.