Council Blocks Move to Modify Commission Appointments

Commissioners clash with Lake Forest Mayor Kathryn McCullough over the politicization of commission appointments.

It will take a near-unanimous vote by the City Council for an appointee to get kicked off one of its two advisory boards under new rules adopted Tuesday.

The council voted 4-0 to increase the number of votes needed to unseat an appointee from three to four. 

A suggestion that the system should be altered more substantially sparked consternation.

When she first raised the issue in May,  proposed changing the appointment rules significantly. She asked the council to back her in a move to have commissioners directly nominated by a council member, then get voted in as part of a slate of nominees. That aspect of her proposal failed to win support Tuesday evening.

There was backlash from members of the Lake Forest commissions who contend that under McCullough's proposal only those close to council members would be selected. 

"You're really turning around and putting politics into the process," Planning Commissioner Tim Hughes told McCullough Tuesday night.

McCullough said she believes the nomination process would allow people to get on the commission who might not make it through the current method, in which each applicant is voted on individually. Some people feel like the current process is "prearranged," with those in favor with the council likely to be selected, she said.

Changing the process "never was intended to remove anybody" from either of the city's two commissions, she said. The change is simply one in a long list of preferred "tweaks" to city rules that McCullough said she has been compiling since she was last mayor a decade ago.

She repeatedly expressed frustration that none of the city's 10 commissioners—four of whom attended the council meeting—called her to find out her intent.

Three members of the Planning Commission—Tim Hughes, Jerry Zechmeister and Dave Carter—and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Amanda Morrell spoke up in opposition to the change. Although they didn't put in requests to speak, McCullough called them up before her to talk about the proposed change.

Morrell said she was put on the Parks and Recreation Commission without knowing anyone on the City Council or city commissions.

"For me it wasn't a political process whatsoever," she said.

Each planning commissioner said that the change would inject more, rather than less, politics into the process by aligning each commissioner with his or her nominating council member.

As a commissioner who served under the nomination process in the city's years, Hughes recalled fellow commissioners being "lightly lobbied" by the person who appointed them.

"We've taken a step back into what we've successfully broke away from," he said.

Under McCullough's proposal, each of the commissioners' terms would be cut short at the end of the year for the new appointment process to go into effect, he noted.

"We are now at a juncture where we have the opportunity to implement a lot of those things that have been created throughout the years," Hughes said. "My concern is that you are talking about potentially starting with a clean slate ... so you potentially have five [new] people that have no knowldege, no experience of where projects are in the current loop."

It is unlikely that none of the commissioners would be reappointed, McCullough responded.

Zechmeister agreed with Hughes, adding that "when you align one person, one individual with one council member they're going to feel like there's a connection there."

As the council hashed out the proposal, Herzog said that the glowing accolades received by the city for its commissions' work left him at a loss for why the system should be altered.

The current method is perfectly transparent, he said.

"I don't know how you can remove politics anymore than making sure that no council person ... picks a person to then have the council vote on," he said. "This country works off of majority rule.... I thought that was the democratic process."

The argument seemingly swayed the position of Commissioner Marcia Rudolph, who backtracked from her position in May that the changes would make the commissions less political.

She backed McCullough's proposal to increase the number of votes needed to remove a commissioner from three to four. That move got full council support after the major changes suggested by McCullough were removed from the vote.

Councilman Mark Tettemer was absent from Tuesday's meeting.


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