ERIE — The Erie Town Board voted to expel two members of the town planning commission Tuesday night over issues related to treatment of staff and behavior characterized as not in the best interests of the community.
Mayor Pro Tem Sara Loflin raised the issue for the board last week; letters were sent to planning commission chairwoman Kelly Zuniga and vice chairman Jim Luthi Friday. The commissioners were invited to appear at the town board meeting to speak or to submit written statements. Neither appeared nor wrote comments. The town board voted 4-2 in both cases in favor of removal.
Town board members Andrew Sawusch and Brandon Bell sought to delay consideration of the proposals to remove the members in order to provide more notice and time for response. The rest of the board voted to proceed Tuesday.
Loflin said she had observed “a pattern of behavior over the past year or so that has caused concern.” She cited absences at planning commission meetings that she described as deliberate attempts to deny a quorum and thus derail or delay consideration of elements of the town comprehensive plan. She also said, among other reasons, that the two had created a hostile work environment that was causing professional staff members to leave the town and discouraging other planning commission members from serving.
Loflin said that Zuniga and Luthi attempted to undermine the direction that the town board had given to the planning commission to include affordable housing and diversity, equity and inclusion within the comprehensive plan that was being drafted.
While Luthi did not attend the meeting, he did respond to a call from BizWest Tuesday morning about the issue. He denied the allegations made against him.
“I looked at why they wanted to remove us. I don’t feel I was ever disrespectful of town staff. I see it as trying to critically question the comprehensive plan and they’re wanting affordable housing. … Surveys show that residents don’t want that.”
He objected to a previous action of the town board to remove some of the planning commission’s authority in regard to approval of the comprehensive plan.
He also denied missing meetings to derail the commission’s work. “I have not missed a meeting until two meetings ago when I was meeting with contractors about damage to my house because of a hail storm. Last Tuesday, I had another meeting that evening. I don’t think I’ve missed any other meetings,” Luthi said.
Loflin also cited a January meeting in which it appeared that Luthi and Zuniga inquired about whether a quorum would be present before decisions were made to skip the meeting.
Sawusch questioned whether the quorum issue was “innocent or deliberate.” He raised concerns about due process.
Bell said he saw this issue “coming a mile away. It didn’t have to happen. Certain individuals on this board wanted this to happen from the start. This is a political move,” he said.
“Certain people on this board think affordable housing is their meal ticket to their next political job,” he said, referencing efforts at the Colorado Legislature to force communities to adopt affordable housing policies.
“Be careful what you wish for. There are unintended consequences of taking actions for political reasons,” Bell said.
Other board members said that actions that caused planning staff members to leave the town were enough of a reason to expel the commissioners.
Ari Harrison, who was attending the meeting remotely, said his support for the motions to expel stems from the inability of the commission to do its work, which he attributed to its leadership.
“It’s the job of the planning commission to carry out the direction of the board of trustees. The majority of the board of trustees voted for this (vision), and the planning commission ought to know it,” Harrison said.
“For me, it’s not political. I base it on performance and the job they were supposed to do,” he said. He said that missing from the debate was comments from “the very people themselves who are accountable for their own actions. You say (they had only) three days. I say they’ve had months. If I’m asked for a response, I’d be responding, because I’m an adult.”