As the Lovettsville Town Council looks to appoint a new planning commissioner, some residents are concerned that a few council members are intentionally disrupting the process.
Following the June resignation of Planning Commission Chairman Tom Ciolkosz, the town received three applicants to fill that seat—David Smith, Charles Cooper and Kris Consaul, a Keller Williams realtor who lost out in the May 1, 2018 mayoral election.
On June 27, the Lovettsville Town Council convened in a closed session during its regular meeting to interview Smith and Consaul. Mayor Nate Fontaine said Cooper was unavailable for an interview at that point because he was on a family vacation.
While the council then scheduled a special meeting for July 9 to interview Cooper, Fontaine said Cooper again informed the town earlier in the week that he would be unable to make it, this time because of work obligations. But a majority of council members opted to proceed with the special meeting and make a decision between Smith and Consaul.
Fontaine said that decision was based on the council’s intent to make an appointment before the commission’s July 10 meeting, when it will elect a new chairperson.
While Fontaine said that Councilmen Buchanan Smith and Chris Hornbaker were unable to attend because of commitments at work, Councilman David Steadman publicly stated that he would not attend because he felt it would be unfair to make an appointment without first interviewing all candidates. His decision to not attend denied the council a quorum—the four-councilmember minimum required for a meeting to proceed—which prompted Fontaine to cancel the meeting.
“After a long debate today … I will not be showing up to the special meeting tonight to get railroaded … by the majority,” Steadman posted to his Facebook page on July 9. “Moving forward with [appointing a candidate without first interviewing all of them] clearly states we don’t care to hear from all candidates that want to serve our great town … This should not be rushed to the appointment of a candidate.”
Some residents responded, criticizing Steadman for purposefully not showing up in an effort to delay an appointment to give someone who had already missed two interviews another chance.
“If I don’t make myself available for the interview then I am showing that I don’t care enough about the job and won’t make it a priority. There were two other people who were interviewed and showed up when scheduled, and they should be voted on,” Erica Aldrich Reck replied to Steadman’s post. “When you sit in a corner and pout and refuse to lose with dignity, you just show that you only know how to act like a petulant child.”
Other residents praised Steadman for wanting to give all three candidates a fair shot.
“The prior commitment to interview everyone was overruled by a majority to just call it quits and bail?” asked Cris Bodine in response to Steadman’s post. “Now someone who wanted to try and maintain that original commitment is being jumped on? Shame on all of you for criticizing the word of honor as pouting.”
Fontaine said that while it would have been best to interview all candidates first, the “council had been very clear that it needed to make an appointment for the Planning Commission vote [Wednesday night].” He said that missing two chances for an interview is something businesses in the “outside world” sometimes aren’t too keen on.
In response to the cancelled meeting Tuesday night, Fontaine and Councilmen Mike Dunlap and Matthew Schilling stuck around in the town office parking lot to hear concerns from about a dozen residents. Dunlap said those concerns centered on Steadman’s absence from the special meeting and his obstruction of government proceedings that denied a Planning Commission appointment.
Dunlap said some residents were also concerned about Fontaine cancelling the meeting before it began.
“The mayor never offered that opportunity to the members of the Town Council, so that was disappointing,” Dunlap said, noting that Fontaine could have initiated the meeting and given council members a chance to have an informal discussion.
The Town Council’s rules and procedures establish that a quorum must be present “to conduct official business,” but they don’t mention that a quorum is required to start a meeting for discussion.
Fontaine said the Town Council will need to make a decision on whether to reschedule Cooper’s interview or make an appointment between Smith and Consaul by its Thursday, July 11 meeting.
He said that either way, a vote for a new Planning Commission chairperson will be held tonight, with only six commissioners on the dais.