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July 18 - EXCLUSIVE: Important Appointments to City Boards Discussed in Public, a First for City Council

Category: Local Govts & Politics

Council Rejects Developer Michael Brown's Application for Appointment to the MPC

By Lou Phelps, SBJ Staff

July 18, 2011 – After admonitions and training from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, the Savannah City Council held discussions about all applicants for 74 open positions on the City’s board, authorities and commissions.

Previously held in executive session, and without any minutes or record of discussions, the Council met last Thursday in open session for more than an hour to review all applicants. In some cases, residents were willing to serve on multiple boards, and the Council discussed the strengths of each applicant, deciding to appoint people to only one position.

In a number of cases, the City needs more applicants and will have to re-advertise the openings making clear that for most of the positions, applicants must be residents of the City. A number of applicants also lived in unincorporated Chatham County neighborhoods, and future ads will make residency requirements clearer.

The open process provided several moments of unusual candor, including the Aldermen and the Mayor uniformly rejecting the application of developer Michael Brown for the Metropolitan Planning Commission. “No way,” several said outloud, making clear that no one intended to nominate him in the open session in the afternoon for the spot. “We need to re-advertise that position,” Mayor Otis Johnson directed City Clerk Dyanne Reese, “and we need to do some outreach for some of these spots,” he added.

In all, there were seven applicants for the MPC, but several people did not live within City limits, and two applications were received after the published deadline – from Frank C. Murray and Murray Stewart Marshall. The Mayor made clear that he had been solicited hard for one of the individuals, “and I just caution you that something is strange here…I’ve never seen so many letters for an appointment.”

City Clerk Reese reminded the Council that they have historically said that applications after the deadline would not be considered, “even though you have the right to do so,” when Felzer continued to put Marshall’s name forward.  It is the City’s policy that all late applications are given to the Mayor and the Mayor and the Clerk then bring them to the Council's attention, according to Reese.  

In addition to Brown and Marshall, other applicants for the MPC who were not appointed included Araceli Harper and Marjorie Weibe-Reed (both of whom were appointed to different boards during the session), and Susan Dyer, Kaitian Brouwer and Chad Warner. The MPC position was for the unexpired term of Jon Todd who resigned for health reasons.

No explanation was given publicly about why, but the Council or Mayor had apparently instructed Reese to have the four applicants for the open positions on the Historic District Board of Review attend the meeting to be interviewed – in public. It was the only board where the applicants had been asked to attend.

Discussions that ensued appeared to indicate that there has been friction on that board, with members unable to work together to make decisions, and the Alderman wanted to ask applicants on the record about their commitment to change that. 

First up was Daniel Brown, a 10-year resident on Wright Square, both a practicing architect and a teacher at Savannah College of Art & Design in the architectural and historic preservation field. Brown said that his teaching experience who be helpful in reviewing people’s applications and helping them learn about the current codes.

“It’s also my chance to volunteer and give back to the City where I call home,” he added While he has had past affiliations with several architectural firms in Savannah that routinely have projects that must come before the board, these were past relationships, he said and he did not feel would put him in conflict on difficult decisions. For any projects before the board for his own firm, he said that he would excuse himself from voting.

Alderman Mary Osborne asked Brown, as well as the other applicants, how he would approach helping less affluent applicants identify more cost available materials to comply with Historic District design and building requirements.

And, in response to a question on what he believes should happen if people make changes that have not been approved, or are in violation of building codes, Brown said, “Construction should be stopped. There should be fines and putting holds on the construction – there shouldn’t be loopholes.”

The next applicant was Stephen Merriman, owner of a window restoration company, who has recently worked on the restoration of the Tybee Island Theater.

Merriman said that he thought he could bring practical solutions to the board based on his hands- on experience, and familiarity with materials. He has extensive experience with restoration of historic homes in the District, including the opportunity to have reviewed many old drawings, he stated. Merriman recently replicated the moldings in the City Hall in the restoration of the City Manager’s office, and for ten years was a member of Pipefitters Union 188. And, his family has been in the building trades for 200 years in Savannah, including construction of the pre-civil war Court House.

As to working cooperatively with other Board members, Merriman said that he would employ common sense, and listen to other members to understand their perspective.

After his interview, several Alderman immediately expressed support for his ideas. “We have to have a practitioner to provide practical materials, practical ideas,” said Alderman Mary Osborne.

Longtime architect Jerry Lominack, managing partner of Lominack & Associates, was up next, a resident in the historic district since 1964 and the lead architectural firm for the recently completed Ellis Square project.

Lominack has worked on the newly drafted zoning ordinances, serving as a volunteer for that effort. “I’ve worked on both sets of revisions to the ordinances, and I’m the only member of that committee that never missed a meeting,” he said, explaining that he has a love for architecture, the city and preservation. His firm is on the State’s list of preservation experts.

In response to questioning, Lominack said that in making decisions, he “wouldn’t violate the ordinances,” but added that he would “like to see more 21st century architecture downtown, frankly.” He previously served on the board years ago, but had not sought reappointment. One Alderman asked him if it was due to conflicts of interest on projects by his firm.

Last up was Keith Howington, a project manager with Greenline Architecture, who also has extensive professional experience in architecture and preservation work. He said that he was very community minded, and had recently volunteered his time on the city’s Mother Matilda dog park project, including finding the donations of the materials that were needed.

He lives in this historic district, having bought a house from Historic Savannah Foundation that was condemned, and has completely restored it.

He also applied for the board about four years ago, which several Alderman thought was in his favor. “We don’t want to discourage people who are willing to serve,” said Tony Thomas.

At the conclusion of the interviews, Alderman Jeff Felser said that he intended to nominate Merriman for the unexpired term that ends in December and Howington for the full term slot. Merrican can then apply in January for a full-term slot.

There was a concensus of support for the two from other Aldermen, as well, with Edna Jackson adding that she liked Howington’s “passion and his sincerity.”

Jones said that all of the candidates addressed his concern about the board members working cooperatively.

While Tony Thomas said that liked what Lominack had to say about more 21st Century design in the district, he supported Felzer’s nominations.

“I like Howington; he has earned a shot. He’s come back, he’s interested,” explained Thomas.

For other boards, the following are the applicants, and those appointed:

For the Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Commission: One position available, and one applicant, Susan Dyer, who was appointed. Mayor Johnson, who represents Savannah on the CRC, said that he was on the nominating committee and there were not a lot of women, and he urged support for Dyer.

Coastal Workforce Investment Board: Nine positions available. Seven applicants: Araceli Harper, Marti Barrow, Kathy S. Love, Angela Watkins, Harland A. Proveauz and two current members seeking re-appointments - Reginal L. Hendricks and Peter R. Doliber. Both were re-appointed. Harper had also applied for the International board, where Alderman felt her talents were needed as member of the Latino community. The other four applicants were all appointed and the city will re-advertise the three remaining openings.

Code Enforcement Appeals Board - Eight Appointments available on the nine-member board, with only three applicants – Victor J. Tetreault, William Coonce and Marjorie Weibe-Reed. A letter of recommendation from Wayne Dawson was received for Coonce. Reese reminded the Aldermen that three members of the board must be qualified in architect and or structural engineers. Coonce is a retired professional engineer and deemed qualified. The Alderman agreed to study whether nine positions were needed for this board in the future, but Osborne reminded the Council that if the board did not exist, the general public would have no place to appeal denials. Tetreault and Weibe-Reed were appointed to other positions.

Cultural Affairs Commission: three positions open with eleven applicants. “This is a very important commission, and it is also a very political commission and we need people who can be objective and not advocating for any special interest,” cautioned the Mayor during the discussion

Edna Jackson said that she supported Elaine Shavers Campbell.

Felzer asked that if they could be told which candidates had applied for multiple boards, and Jackson asked for other changes to how candidates were presented to them in their workbook for the session, leading those in attendance to wonder how appointments have taken place in the past when done in executive session.

Mary Ellen Sprague said that she supported Linette Dubois from the Ardsley Park Neighborhood Association, who she said was “relatively new to Savannah and did not have any strong alliances with any group,” which led to a discussion on where existing commission members lived, and whether there was good representation of neighborhoods across the city.

Tony Thomas said he supported Lisa Clark from the United Way, saying she was “hardworking.” Felzer said he supported Elaine Campbell, and Deborah Porter Glynn who was from the Paradise Park neighborhood, were appointed. Also applying were Lisa Hudson, Carl A. Miller, JinHi Soucy Rand, Jim Holt and David Riemen. Aracelli Harper’s name was saved for another board. (See below.)

Electrical Appeals and Advisory Board: One consulting engineer, one electrical contractor and one administrative person fo power company were needed. Only applicant, Paul Mamalakis, was re-appointed.

Greater Savannah International Alliance: One appointment available, and two alternatives with three applicants. Aracelli Harper was appointed for the full position and Justin A. Godchaux of Price Waterhouse was appointed the alternate. Also applying had been Michael D. Brown, local developer.

Housing Authority of Savannah: One appointment available with three applicants. Edna Jackson nominated Celia Irvine, saying she had support from people who work with the Housing Authority. It is actually a Mayor’s appointment, but he asked for nominations. Also applying was Victor J. Tetreault and Angela Watkins.

Keep Savannah Beautiful: Fifteen appointments available and six applicants. Appointed were Lisa Hudson, Russ Lee and Carl A. Miller. Also applying was Marti Barrow and Victor Tetreault, put onto other boards. Board will be re-advertised.

Park & Tree Commission: three appointments with two applicants, Russ Lee and Paul Hammond, both appointed.

Property Maintenance and Enforcement Board: three appointments available, plus two alternates, with only one applicant, Victor J. Tetreault, who was appointed.

Savannah/Chatham Council of Disability Issues: Six appointments available with seven applicants. Appointed were Elena Thompson, Melinda Y. Miller, Marjorie Weibe-Reed, Frank Laia, Kathleen Holmes and Shane Berryhill. Also applying was Lisa Hudson, put on a different board.

Savannah Film Commission: Nine appointments available, including six citizen positions and three from motion picture/television industry. Appointed were Murray Silver and Bailey Davidson, all appointed. Lisa Hudson and Paul Hammond also applied, but were put on other boards. Board will be re-advertised.

Savannah Hospital Authority: Seven appointments available with only one applicant, Elaine Shavers Campbell, who was appointed to a different. No discussion took place on why none of the current members sought re-appointment. Board will be re-advertised.

Savannah Recreation Commission: Six appointments available with only three applicants, George Shaw, Lisa Hudson and Victor Tetreault. Only Shaw was appointed as the others were already slated for other boards. Shaw is a Zoning Administrator for Effingham County, but a Savannah resident.

Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals: Three appointments available and three applicants, but only Quentin L. Markey, a Savannah attorney, had not already applied for a different position. One Alderman remarked on his “outstanding credentials for the Zoning Board of Appeals.” Also applying were Tetreault and Reed.

There were a number of late applications:

- Tom Coleman for Savannah Housing Authority

- Tom Coleman for Savannah-Chatham Council of Disability.

- Tom Coleman for Property Maintenance and Enforcement Board

- James P. English III for Housing Authority of Savannah

- Sara Mack Rayfield and Murray Stewart Marshall for MPC

- Sara Mack Rayfield for Zoning Board of Appeals

- J. Paul Hansen for Park and Tree Commission

And, there were applications received from Non-City residents willing to serve, but not meeting the requirements. They were:

- Eleanor Tucker for Savannah Recreation Commission

- Tanya Bailey Smith for Housing Authority of Savannah

- George Brazer and Nancy Minsky for Film Commission

- John Patrick Connell for MPC

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