Danner continues to argue for inquiry into Planning Comm. decision

By April 24, 2012Local Government

Mayor Bruce Botelho explains the Planning Commission appeals process to Assembly member Ruth Danner. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau Assembly Member Ruth Danner last night (Monday) continued to argue for a full vetting of a Planning Commission decision allowing Coogan General, LLC to operate a rock crusher at a gravel pit along Montana Creek Road.

But her protests may have backfired, and if the decision is appealed, the Assembly likely won’t be deciding the matter.

The Assembly typically is the board of appeal for Planning Commission decisions. But Mayor Bruce Botelho says Danner, through her actions as an Assembly member and as a private citizen, has killed any chance the body might have had at considering the matter impartially.

“I think where we are today – given the extent to which we have now been given lots of information and an advocacy of one part – I think it would difficult for us to say that we could render a decision, which is fair to all parties,” Botelho said. “And has the appearance of fairness to all parties, which is as important I think in terms of securing the integrity of the system that we have in place.”

Botelho last week proposed censuring Danner for a comment she made at the Planning Commission meeting where the rock crusher was approved. According to a transcript of the meeting Danner said the city’s Law Department had “misled” commissioners in the past. She narrowly escaped censure by apologizing to City Attorney John Hartle and City Manager Kim Kiefer.

But last night, in a rambling, 12-minute prepared statement – in which she waxed at length about Watergate, Richard Nixon and the Open Meetings Act – Danner seemed to backtrack a bit.

“The 60s are over. Backroom deals are no longer allowed. There are new rules to the game, and the public process that must be followed,” she said.

Danner alleges the Law Department found a loophole in city code that allowed the rock crusher to be permitted in the residential neighborhood. She cites an email from City Planner Beth McKibben last November, where McKibben said a rock crusher was not allowed.

“The Planning Commission diligently scrubs through the facts of an application and the related code and makes their ruling based on the law,” said Danner. “But when they receive word that the Law Department has re-interpreted code to suddenly allow for something that staff has already ruled is not permissible, what are they supposed to believe?”

Danner pleaded with her fellow assembly members to join her in demanding that the Law Department reveal its interpretation of the code allowing the rock crusher.

When none of the other members offered her a lifeline, Mayor Botelho stated his opinion that the public record had been significantly compromised. The former state Attorney General said Danner should have waited until the matter was appealed to the assembly to start asking questions.

“To the extent that the Planning Commission makes decisions with which a member of the public disagrees, there’s a specific process and that process is the process of appeal,” said Botelho. “And that is the opportunity for the Assembly to determine whether a mistake has been made.”

City Attorney Hartle agreed with Botelho, and said if the matter were appealed to the Assembly, he would recommend that it be decided by a hearing officer. In the past, Hartle said the city had paid between $10,000 and $20,000 dollars for the services of a hearing officer.

Danner continued to argue her case until Assembly Member Karen Crane asked that the meeting be declared over.

“I just think at this point, the discussion is really inappropriate, because Ms. Danner is referring to other hearings and issues and making comments about situations of which some of us have no knowledge,” Crane said. “The mayor has laid out that there is a process, there’s a process to go through. You may not be happy with that process. But it is in place, and I think that’s the way we’re going to proceed. We’re not going to change the decisions or the process with this discussion.”

In her final protest, Danner said other Assembly members seemed to want to get home before 11 o’ clock rather than fully explore and analyze the issue. Botelho stopped her, called the remark inappropriate and ended the meeting.

In an interview later, Danner said she didn’t think her neighbors would appeal the rock crusher permit, because of the money, time and resources it would require. If the appeal does happen, she said she’d have no problem with it being heard by a hearing officer, rather than the Assembly.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of free thinking amongst my fellow assembly members,” said Danner.

The neighbors who oppose the rock crusher must file an appeal by May 2nd. Peggy Matson, who lives in the area and asked the Assembly last night (Monday) to release the Law Department’s advice to the Planning Commission, said the neighbors haven’t decided what they are going to do.

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