Grewe lectures PC based on anonymous sources; Commission members push back: Let’s not go political, let’s just do our work
By Valerie Cury
At the end of an almost four-hour meeting, the Purcellville Planning Commissioners heard comments and reflections from Town Council Member Joel Grewe, who was invited to speak by Vice Chair Ed Neham at the commission’s April 15 meeting.
Grewe was there to reiterate his comments at the Town Council meeting two days prior.
He said what he had to say was “an amalgamation of feedback; there are not specific emails I can forward … the conversations were “phone calls or in person,” of about a dozen people. He said he was not at liberty to say whom, however. But he said the people said communicating with the Planning Commission would be pointless, or they feared retaliation.
He then said these residents of the Town have concerns about the Planning Commission’s current work – specifically, “the historic overlay district, and [the idea of] lowering the height limit in the C-4 District.”
Grewe said that these citizens … “had concerns” … with Commissioners “routinely interrupting people when they are talking,” and “talking over Town staff.” These residents, he said, were concerned about “muzzling Town staff” when they were giving an account of their work.
Grewe said he listened to the April 1 PC meeting – and other meetings – and suggested the Planning Commissioners review the Town Code of Conduct for Committees.
“There may be better ways for you to operate …”, Grewe said. “Your conduct is a matter of Town concern.” He then reminded them that they were “political appointed officers of the Town.”
Finishing up, Grewe quoted “a carpenter from Galilee,” “Love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Planning Commissioner Boo Bennett – referring to the anonymous individuals represented by Grewe asked, “Who are these people? We are just neighbors, and we live in the Town; we are hardly a threat.”
She said the Planning Commission discusses important issues – issues that have two sides. “So, there are going to be some disagreements; what you presented was all one sided.”
Bennett said she has been attending meetings for a couple years, and instead of the customary two staff members who attend – since August there have been four or five. She said that the meetings have become “very inefficient, because we have had interruptions. We have had people commenting as if they were also appointed commissioners. It’s very frustrating.”
Continuing, Bennet said, “We are not being rude, and as I said, we live in the same darn town – and these people can’t speak up and reveal their names? … These people need to come forward and speak to us, and not hide behind you or someone else … All these things you are saying, I have heard for ten years.” Bennett said it was because they didn’t agree with the direction of the Planning Commission’s work.
Bennett summed it up by saying, “Not everybody in the Town wants to do things the same way as maybe the other people.”
Grewe’s political agenda?
Chair Nedim Ogelman pointed out that Grewe was the lone Council member who voted against the Comprehensive Plan.
“I think that is telling …” Ogelman said, having been a Council member himself, “I don’t share Council member Grewe’s values … when people don’t share values, this is when, in a political context, there are disagreements and differences.”
Ogelman said that he thought Grewe’s comments “reflect his political position, more than anything about conduct.” Ogelman said he “could take that same Code of Conduct and point out times when other people have not adhered to them.”
As far as “doing unto others as you would have done unto you, it is important to not be hypocritical with saying things like that, I think,” said Ogelman.
Milan and Forbes weigh in
Commissioner Stan Milan then asked; “When does disagreeing with somebody turn into being hostile? Or, trying to get clarification on a topic become hostile?”
“When you are a public figure, and you are listening to the citizens’ voices – their opinion on things – I don’t agree with not disclosing who is having these issues with the Planning Commission …All these anonymous concepts and issues people in the background … that some Council members support, are the loudest voices that we hear.”
“The majority of the Town’s residents voted for me on the issues that I ran on … I am going to continue to support what I ran on. Some people may not like it. I am not a politician; but, I am beginning to see what is required of politicians.
“The Town Council needs someone to speak for them, and not be persuaded by those with power monetarily,” said Milan. “There’s a lot of things that happened in this Town that kept me from retiring and going to the Philippines – that was my goal.
“My daughter told me, ‘Dad, there are some issues going on in Town that you need to look at.’ I came and listened to a meeting, and I saw Council members goofing off, and disrespecting the mayor. So, I stopped my move, and ran for office. I want to make sure that this Town is well taken care of.
“This anonymous – and ‘I can’t disclose this and that’ – and address the Planning Commission as if we were rambunctious adolescents is insulting. I do not appreciate back door political slight on the Planning Commission,” concluded Milan.
Commissioner Nan Forbes said, “It is very difficult to respond to an anonymous third-party complaint. And, I am troubled by it.”
She said the other issue “is that your comments seem to tar the Planning Commission and every member of the Planning Commission with a broad brush. It is so broad and unspecified, that I really don’t know what to make of it.”
Forbes said that the Planning Commission was being accused of a violation of a code of conduct. “I have not heard any particular examples or instances of when that may have occurred or how that may have occurred …
“I sit in these meetings, and I think that we have open discussions; we invite comment; we argue among ourselves; we ask for input from staff.”