Planning Commission chairman asked to resign

With restructuring on its mind, the city council has asked for one department chairman’s resignation.

In a closed-door meeting on Jan. 18, Mayor Laura Dubois asked for Planning Commission chairman Larry Freedman’s resignation. The move, however, came as a surprise to Freedman, as well as the three incumbent councilors.

“I never even heard about this,” said Councilman Paul McHugh at the Jan. 28 Sequim City Council meeting.

Freedman, speaking during the public comment period, said he was under the impression he would be discussing matters of procedure in regards to the planning board’s current vacancy when he was called to the Jan. 18 meeting with Dubois.

“When I arrived at the meeting, city attorney (Craig) Ritchie, Councilman (Erik) Erichsen and the mayor were present,” Freedman said. “It was clear immediately that I had been misled as to the purpose of the meeting. The mayor immediately pushed a paper in front of me and told me to sign it resigning from the Planning Commission, effective immediately.”

Freedman said he asked Dubois if she were speaking for the entire council. Dubois responded that she was the mayor and as mayor was demanding Freedman’s resignation, Freedman said.

Former Councilman Don Hall, who was in the audience, later said he was “absolutely flabbergasted,” by Dubois’ comment.

When discussion of possibly restructuring the public works and planning departments came up, McHugh again expressed the feeling of standing outside and looking in as the four recently elected council members — Erik Erichsen, Ken Hays, Susan Lorenzen and Dubois — seemingly pushed forth their own agenda items.

“This is the first time I’m hearing about this. It’s one thing to put it on the agenda. It’s quite another to actually tell us about it,” said McHugh. “The rest of us are not a part of this loop and maybe that doesn’t matter to you.”

The reasoning behind Dubois’ request for Freedman’s resignation is that Freedman is a developer in Sequim, which Dubois, Erichsen, Hays and Lorenzen believe is a direct conflict of interest. Councilman Ken Hays said that Freedman was “fundamentally incapable” of serving on the commission objectively. Hays even went so far as to say that he had heard from members of the city’s affordable housing committee, which Freedman also chairs, that Freedman “manipulated the committee to further his own interests.”

Councilman Bill Huizinga, a member of the affordable housing committee, instantly rebuked Hays’ statement.

“It is an absolute lie,” Huizinga said. “It’s a total falsehood. His actions are always, always, well thought out. I think his proper place is on the commission.”

Freedman said his term on the planning commission does not end until January 2009, and until then he would not be resigning.

“I intend to complete my term in office and resist any attempts to remove me from office,” he said.

Ritchie was informed of Dubois’ intent to ask for Freedman’s resignation on Jan. 18, the day of the meeting.

Dubois defended her actions.

“I did not demand his resignation, I just asked for it. I thought it was time that he move on,” Dubois said, citing that Freedman had recently joined the Boys & Girls Club’s board and was needed elsewhere.

McHugh asked Dubois why she felt Freedman’s position was a conflict of interest, and Dubois said that it stemmed from opinions and comments expressed in the local media, but would not specify.

“I think you can’t because there are none,” McHugh said. “Who else is targeted, Laura?”

Rather than carry out any further discussion during the public comment period, Councilman Walt Schubert asked that the matter of Freedman’s resignation be made into an agenda item and it was. Under Resolution No. R-2006-015 City Council Rules of Procedure, however, “no council meeting should be permitted to continue beyond approximately 9:30 p.m. without approval of a majority of the council members who are present and eligible to vote.”

By the time the agenda item regarding Freedman came up for discussion it was 9:30 p.m. In a 4-3 vote the council voted to adjourn the meeting and carry over the discussion of Freedman and Dubois’ request for his resignation until the next council meeting on Feb. 11.

But before then, planning commissioner Michael East had some words of advice for the council’s new members.

“Don’t burn any bridges,” East said. “You’re being called the gang of four in town right now.”

“This is the first time I’m hearing about this. It’s one thing to put it on the agenda. It’s quite another to actually tell us about it.”

— Paul McHugh, Sequim City Council

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