CAMP VERDE - It took Town Council close to three hours to decide whether a self-proclaimed non-politician was still the best fit to be a member of the Town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
In the end, council said yes - unanimously.
Tuesday, council voted to allow Commissioner Bob Burnside to keep his spot on P&Z despite complaints that his behavior at a recent meeting was "disturbing and extremely less than professional."
Vice Mayor Jackie Baker said the open forum to consider Burnside's place on the commission was "a learning experience."
"In my experience, we've had heated debates. And we haven't been especially polite at times. But we got where we had to go," Baker said.
Burnside's "belittling of staff" during the commission's Nov. 6 special session led to council considering the commissioner's removal, said Commission Chairman B. J. Davis.
"I believe his actions wasted time, and frankly, gave a bad impression of the Town's processes," Davis said.
On Nov. 6, the commission met to consider backing Simonton Ranch owner Scott Simonton's application to rezone his 21.87-acre parcel on N. Homestead Parkway as commercial, which requires a minor General Plan amendment.
But Burnside said Simonton's petition actually was a Planned Area Development (PAD) agreement between the Town and Simonton.
According to a prepared statement by Commissioner Dave Freeman, Burnside "frequently stated he was totally in favor of the intention for the changes requested."
Though Chairman Davis said the questions Burnside asked were "legitimate," Town Manager Russ Martin said his "demeanor was in question."
"Lecturing the staff, and frankly, the applicant," Martin said. "Staff had a feeling that night that it was a difficult situation. They weren't embarrassed so much for themselves but for the applicant."
As Town Manager Russ Martin played parts of the meeting's video for council, he explained how Burnside's demeanor "went beyond what can be reeled back in."
"Think about this in context," the Town Manager said. "Would we want what happened that night to ever happen again?"
According to Burnside, a Planning and Zoning commissioner "is not a politician."
"I am not a politician," Burnside said. "You try to be correct. You try to ask the right questions."
Asking questions, said council member Carol German, "is a good thing."
"I don't believe, after watching the video three times, that Commissioner Burnside would intentionally embarrass an applicant or staff."
Though members of the council said no - they would not want the incident to happen again, several said they hopeful that Burnside and the commission could improve their working relationship.
"I would like to have this be a learning experience and put our best foot forward," council member Bruce George said. "I would like [council] to do as little as possible and hope that the commission could do better."
After an hour in executive session, Town Council decided Wednesday to release the investigation summary to the public. But not before directing staff "to prepare an agenda item to consider sanctions, if any," according to Town Manager Russ Martin.
That agenda item, Martin also said, is expected to be placed on council's Dec. 17 regular session.
Public records requests deemed excessive, including employee pay, performance, disciplinary, background, polygraph and job requirements are the subject of the complaints.
The investigation was conducted by Amy Lieberman, executive director of Insight Employment Mediation in Scottsdale.
Lieberman's report reflects "conversation, perceptions of what was going on," said Mayor Charlie German.
"We want to fix this," he said. "I think that's what council wants to do."
Council's Dec. 17 regular session will be held at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers, 473 S. Main St. #106.
A copy of the agenda is available at: www.campverde.az.gov/government/town-clerk/agendas-minutes-actions/town-council/2014-2/.
-- Bill Helm
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