An Arroyo Grande planning commissioner accused of conflict of interest by a local developer will keep his position, thanks to a Nov. 10 vote by the City Council.
After contentious discussion between members, the council voted unanimously to allow John Mack to remain as the city’s planning commissioner, despite serious reservations by three of its members.
Developer Nick Tompkins accused Mack, who was appointed by Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill, of unfairly using his position on the commission to influence the planned Courtland development project. In October, Tompkins filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) claiming that Mack owned property near the development, which constituted a conflict of interest. Tompkins also said that Mack filed a quitclaim deed and gave up his ownership of the property, located in the Berry Gardens neighborhood, the same day he was set to vote on the Courtland project.
The FPPC dismissed the complaint on Oct. 20, but the council had already voted 3-2 on Oct. 13 to discuss booting Mack from the Planning Commission at its Nov. 10 meeting.
For Councilmember Barbara Harmon, who voted along with members Kristen Barneich and Jim Guthrie to agendize a vote on Mack’s removal, argued that even an appearance of impropriety on Mack’s part was concerning. Barneich agreed with Harmon.
“The letter of the law maybe wasn’t broken, but its spirit was completely stomped on,” Barneich said.
However, a majority of the individuals who showed up to make public comments at the Nov. 10 meeting supported Mack and urged the council to keep him. Several accused Tompkins of trying to oust Mack to make it easier for future projects to get approved. Some chided Harmon, Barneich, and Guthrie for appearing to side with Tompkins in the matter.
“You guys don’t have my interest in mind,” said Arroyo Grande Resident Robert Montoya. “John Mack does.”
At the meeting, Mack defended himself, stating Tompkins had targeted him and was attempting to bully the council into removing him.
“I’m not in a fight with [Tompkins],” Mack said. “I don’t oppose every project of his. I serve the city.”
Both Hill and Councilmember Tim Brown spoke in Mack’s favor at the meeting, arguing that the FPPC was the final arbiter in the case and that the council rushed to agendize removing Mack from his position.
With such a public division between council members, the vote on the issue was all the more surprising when Harmon made the motion to vote in favor of keeping Mack as planning commissioner.
“Although the [FPPC] determined that there was no conflict, it doesn’t address the fact that there indeed was questionable conduct,” Harmon said. “But the FPPC is also a governing body whose ruling I will need to respect.”