ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2018 - 2019
The following is a list of projects I initiated during my 18 months on the Village Council. Given my position 'in the minority' the following accomplishments are among those of which I am most proud. There was fierce opposition to my appointment among the Council 'majority'. Knowing this, I worked hard to defeat the negativity by continuously demonstrating my commitment to Village business, the collaborative process, transparency and citizen interests. In time, I believe my sincere, commitment to producing good Village work convinced fellow members of the Council to work with me, to achieve good things for the community.
I could not have done it without support from citizens and friends! Thank you! Together, we made progress!
Policy for Initiating Land Development
A policy that ensures prospective applicants pursue development projects through approved, Village Hall processes and not by lobbying the Mayor and/or members of the Council, nor members of an advisory board, through private meetings beyond public view.
Why Was This Necessary?
One example, below, helps illustrate why this policy became necessary:
Violations of Statutory Judicial Process and Land Use Permitting Laws
Despite a Village policy which prevents it, Mayor Pollino met with a developer interested in developing a private school in the R-Marvin District. Not only does it seem he attended the open house alone, evidence strongly suggests he attended a one-on-one meeting with the representative.
Policies against meeting with prospective applicants exist for a reason. In this case, Mayor Pollino apparently didn't know and/or didn't care to investigate first. Per the Code of Ordinances, private schools are permitted in the R-Marvin residential district, only after a quasi-judicial proceeding and the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit. Per this process, the Council acts like, and must abide by, strict judicial codes of conduct. All ex-parte communication with a prospective applicant are prohibited and all information must be made available to all parties having an interest in the development (the applicant, adjacent residents, all council members, attorneys, etc.)
Instead, Mayor Pollino met with the prospective applicants and his associates on two separate occasions. And, in one public record, the prospective applicant(s) 'thank Mayor Pollino for his support'. This is out of bounds, legally, and could have gotten the Village in a lot of trouble. The applicant ended up withdrawing their application.
The Policy for Initiating Development is meant to ensure public officials do not take it upon themselves to pursue development projects; particularly when they are unacquainted with the legal ramifications of doing so, on their own. Instead, the policy requires all development initiatives proceed through proper staff channels and, if desired, applicants can meet with the Council in open, transparent public meetings, to obtain their general feedback, prior to obtaining a legally-binding Council decision.
See public record documents and emails which illustrate this issue.
Statement of Economic Interest for Board Members
A policy and disclosure form, which must be updated annually, requiring all Village Council members and advisory board members to provide substantive economic information to increase transparency, perpetuate trust and prevent private business interests from driving Village development and political agendas.
Why Was This Necessary?
A real-life illustration
Seeking Public Office to Influence Decisions from Which One Might Benefit
Despite Village Code of Ethics and Planning Board Rules of Procedure, Mr. Lavelle, Planning Board member, sought to influence public policy and project expenditures on a Village Center 'master plan' initiative in which he intended to invest and/or develop (according to his own audio disclosure). Though he should be commended for disclosing this fact, Mr. Lavelle was required, by the Rules of Procedure, to refrain from influencing any decision or recommendation with regard to the Village Center District or the Master Plan for the district. Instead of honorably recusing himself from participation, Mr. Lavelle insisted on influencing the decision and berating Council members who would not support an initiative from which, it appears, he stood to reap financial gains.
Instead of supporting Village policy and procedure, Mayor Pollino grew enraged at the Council for politely removing Mr. Lavelle from the Planning Board. Upon re-election to office, in 2017, the Council majority (Joe Pollino, Kim Vandenberg and Nick Dispenziere) re-instated Mr. Lavelle onto the Marvin Planning Board. He continues to sit on the Planning Board and, as of the last meeting, was attempting to rush his amendments to the land use place as soon as he could manage it.
Additionally, Mr. Jones, current Planning Board Chair, owns several development companies (See the corporation list.). Apparently he also used to work for Mr. Lavelle. - Planning Board Application: John Jones
Mr. Lavelle, on the Planning Board, is also a commercial developer and owns several development businesses.
(See the corporation list.) - Planning Board Application: Michael Lavelle
The Village of Marvin has always been able to depend on a citizen's ability to self-regulate their conduct and behavior in such instances. When it was apparent this was no longer the case, I analyzed our active conflict of interest forms, investigated possible amendments, devised a policy strategy for integrating a new disclosure form in our processes, and requested the Council consider amendments. This initiative was adopted in August. Minor edits are being made to the form and a second version of the form is being instituted for employee disclosures.
Employee Statement of Interest for Employees for Initiating Land Development
A policy and disclosure form, which must be updated annually, requiring all Village staff to provide substantive information about business associations, in order to increase transparency, perpetuate trust and prevent private business interests from driving Village business.
Why Was This Necessary?
A real-life illustration
1. Conflicts Which Arise in Public Office of Employment
While I was serving as Chairwoman of the Planning Board, our Village Planner had worked with, and represented, an application for proposed amendments to our Land Development Codes. One of our planning board members protested the initiative; stating the applicant and the planner were not providing transparent information. The Planner reacted by requesting I take measures to excuse the Planning Board member from participating in the meeting. The Planning Board member voluntarily recused himself. The situation was uncomfortable and it was clear there was more to the situation than was being presented. However, to maintain decorum, we proceeded with review of the application and the text amendment without the provision of further insight.
After the Planning Board finished deliberating and providing our recommendation, additional information was provided. The Planner had previously been employed by the applicant presenting the development plan and text amendment to the Code. Although this may not have been a breach of any particular policy, the information should have been disclosed to the Planning Board.
The Planning Board member that protested, later divulged there was a sympathetic relationship between the Planner, and her former employee / colleague. He felt her judgment and review of the project were compromised by the relationship. At the very least, the Planning Board and the Council should have been provided with the information. The Employee Statement of Interest disclosure form, and new additions to the Personnel Policy, require that staff members provide full disclosure to the council and advisory board, where their objectivity may be compromised; or where there might be a perception of impropriety. Additionally, it ensures full transparency and promotes trust between government officials and citizens. Unfortunately Documentation Cannot Be Provided for Personnel Issues
Purchase & Procurement Policy
A policy requiring expenditures and service contracts be procured through traceable, responsible, recorded processes; in order to increase accountability, improve transparency, and prohibit unregulated dispensation of public contracts and funds to parties with associations to public officials, board members or Village staff.
Why Was This Necessary?
A real-life illustration
1. Garnering Public Funds for a Private or Semi-Private Development Venture
After public records revealed Mayor Joe Pollino, Mr. Lavelle and non-resident, Mr. Chip Sawicki were interviewing and seeking to hire contractors and designers for a public project with the help of public funds (without knowledge provided in any open meeting, the Council, the Planning Board or any member of Village Staff) it was clear additional municipal regulation was needed above regulations in North Carolina law, governing municipal contracts and bidding. North Carolina laws require municipal public projects and contracts be discussed and deliberated in open meetings, among governing board members. Individual council members and advisory board members are not permitted to seek out contract workers intended to be paid for with public funds - particularly beyond taxpayer's awareness. After all, the money in question belongs "to the people".
Moreover, projects over $100,000 are required to abide by legal bidding processes and cannot be awarded to contractors simply because an advisory board member and/or the Mayor and/or one of their associates "like the vendor, their product or the nature of their business model". There are statutory, open bidding and selection process which must be followed in accordance with the law. Yet, a contract was drafted, in the Village of Marvin's name, for approximately $160,000 dollars to devise a Village of Marvin Village Center Zoning District and development area. (See files in the folder below.)
Pre-selecting prospective service providers, through backdoor negotiations outside of public meetings, using public funds, without following lawful open bidding laws can put the Village of Marvin in a compromised legal position. In the past, Marvin Village staff, officials and attorneys have always abided by state guidelines or laws, even without a specific municipal policy. The realization that the Mayor and Mr. Lavelle appeared to be "pre-selecting contractors" outside of open bidding requirements inspired me to draft a Purchase and Procurement Policy and work to have it adopted. Thankfully, we succeeded! I hope the policy will dissuade officials and volunteers from misusing their public offices and positions on Marvin boards in ways which jeopardize the legal legitimacy of Marvin's government institutions.
Copies of Correspondence Can Be Found Here
(*Note the files have not been sorted)
2. Providing Lucrative Attorney Contracts to Family Friends of Council members
There was a culture of malfeasance being cultivated in Marvin’s Council administration when I arrived in June of 2018. The attitude promoted the idea of extending public funds for projects and contracts to personal associates who otherwise have no association with the Village. Some may be surprised to hear how Councilwoman Vandenberg has been equally comfortable with method of carrying out Village business.
The attached document, each line item and the associated links, demonstrates how comfortable Ms. Vandenberg became with extending a lucrative legal contract, through public funds to a life-long associate without following any proper or practices typically required before granting a business contract. No RFQs or RFPs were requested or extended prior to this Council majority's decision to hire a Vandenberg-Bach family friend: Mr. T.C. Morphis. But perhaps it was the conduct which occurred afterward which was even more unsettling...
3. Leveraging Public Contracts with Friends to Pursue Questionable Conduct
The most disturbing outcome extending from the Village legal contract with Vandenberg's family-friend, was watching Vandenberg's Village attorney pursue a private lawsuit with public funds.
The Council majority has tried to claim that only after they spent $18,000 in public funds on legal charges did they realize public funds couldn’t be used to pursue a Quo Warranto lawsuit against my appointment to office. A review of the links provided in this post should aptly illustrate the degree to which this explanation is preposterous.
The statute governing the Quo Warranto process is four pages long and easy to read; especially for an attorney. The statute conveys a Quo Warranto suit is a private lawsuit seven (7) different times, and further states public funds cannot be used. (NCGS §1-521)
Moreover, sources say Village documents (under seal due to this Council majority's reluctance to share the truth) contain a report published by Vandenberg's Village Attorney (T. C. Morphis) in which he, himself, relayed that public funds could not be spent on a Quo Warranto suit. However, the Village was invoiced for T. C. Morphis's legal work and those invoices were paid with public funds! Moreover, the Village paid for some of T.C. Morphis's legal invoices after the Attorney General’s office told T.C. Morphis, Vandenberg and Pollino it was unlawful for the Village to be using public funds.
Even if Pollino and Vandenberg weren't aware of the statute at first, why did they not reimburse the Village for the costs spent on what amounted to their private lawsuit once they found out? It was their private lawsuit after all. Instead, in an email, the Village Administrator conveys that Pollino & Vandenberg have no plan to reimburse the Village for any of the legal fees the Village paid in preparation for Pollino & Vandenberg's private lawsuit.
Under typical circumstances an objective attorney would provide objective client advice about 'what's right and what's wrong' when conducting business as a steward of public money. This appears to illustrate a scenario whereby public officials grant a hand-selected legal counselor a substantial public legal contract and, in exchange the hand-selected legal counsel agrees to sanctify or justify questionable conduct and expenditures using public funds. In other words, we had front row seats to what seemed to be one party with financial interests "washing the hands of another with financial interests"... using taxpayer dollars.
These examples illustrate the degree to which more sound, ethical processes were needed for requesting proposals, bids, vendor selection criteria, procurements and purchases. This policy was one of many which were drafted and adopted after I accepted my appointment. I can only hope these safeguards will remain in place, regardless of who will be elected to the Marvin Council. I give credit to the Council for adopting the policies and I hope they will continue to support them.
Other Completed Initiatives
Championed the restoration of the following:
~ Council Meeting Minutes Online
~ Council Meeting Audio Recordings Online
~ Council Meeting Documents Online
~ Planning Board Meeting Minutes Online
Championed and motivated the following:
~ Public Distribution of Council Agenda & Complete Meeting Packet
~ Public Distribution of Planning Board Agenda & Complete Meeting Packet
~ Public Distribution of PR&G Board Agenda & Complete Meeting Packet
Initiated and Completed the following:
~ Installation of a Statement of Economic Interest Disclosure Form & Policy
~ Installation of an Employee Statement of Interest Disclosure Form & Policy
~ Installation of Code of Ethics Updates to include disclosures
~ Installation of Personnel Policy Updates for ethics and disclosures
Initiated and Completed: the following:
~ Purchasing and Procurement Policy
~ Open, Transparent Contract Bidding Policy
~ Initiating Development Policy
~ Index of Adopted Codes Online
~ Blind, Objective Road Resurfacing Selection Process
~ Employee Position Sharing for High-Income Earning Full-time Staff
~ Referendum to Increase Council Representation
Updated and Provided Guidance with regard to the following:
~ Conditional District Application and Processing
~ Conditional District Flowchart and Citizen Guidance