Philomath City Hall
Philomath City Hall (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath Planning Commission chose one of its members to serve as chair for this calendar year on Tuesday night but not without a little drama as part of the proceedings.

Commissioners chose to put Gary Conner into the seat over the previous chair, Joseph Sullivan, on a 5-2 vote. The choices were recorded through ballots sent to the city manager via email.

Look for additional coverage
out of the Jan. 19 Planning
Commission meeting in the
coming days.

The discussion opened with Sullivan volunteering himself to continue serving as the chair and Peggy Yoder added that she had intended to nominate him.

Van Hunsaker volunteered to represent another choice for the seat if nobody else was interested and explained his view.

“I just don’t see how Joseph can work with the City Council in a way that furthers our work forward,” Hunsaker said. “And I would ask that somebody else be willing to offer themselves to be the chair.”

Hunsaker was referring to friction that has existed between Sullivan and the City Council and city staff in recent months. Then-Mayor Eric Niemann wrote a Nov. 23 letter to the Planning Commission that included directives and guidance while also mentioning a website connected to Sullivan that was posting city government-related news and had become a concern of councilors.

“The council has specific concerns about confrontational and disrespectful treatment of city staff in Planning Commission meetings,” Niemann also wrote in the letter. “Council expects the meetings of the Planning Commission to be conducted in a manner that honors the dignity and integrity of each visitor, city official and member of the commission, and that follows the agenda.”

Sullivan wrote a letter with responses to points that Niemann had brought up and added, “… If the council considers my leadership to be unsatisfactory, I remind the council of its power to remove me at any time. If it chooses to not do so, I will take this as a sign of your confidence in our body.”

Following Hunsaker’s comments, Giana Bernardini nominated Conner for the position of chair. Hunsaker then rescinded his offer to be an option.

“I know that we’re going to be talking about some stuff in a little bit … that Joseph Sullivan’s unfit, that there’s been personality conflicts,” Yoder said in reference to the City Council guidance and Niemann’s letter that was upcoming on the agenda. “But I think as adults, there’s really no reason that Joseph couldn’t continue on with what he’s doing so far as being the chair.”

Hunsaker said that during his three months on the commission, he has witnessed some sort of commotion involving Sullivan.

“He has something that doesn’t help us as a commission move forward,” Hunsaker said. “If you think about it on a larger sense, I’d like to see this country be more cooperative in working together.”

The discussion pretty much ended there with the process moving on to a ballot vote through email. The group took a five-minute recess and upon reconvening, City Manager Chris Workman announced the 5-2 result in favor of Conner.

Conner took over the meeting as the new chair for the rest of the evening. The vice chair vote then took place and Sullivan was approved on a 4-3 count over Hunsaker.

Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath Planning Commission at its Jan. 19 meeting:
• To approve the Aug. 17 meeting minutes as presented. Motion: Conner. Seconded: Hunsaker. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Bernardini, Boggs, Conner, Hunsaker, Sullivan, Yoder; Abstained—McGlinchy).
• To approve an amendment to a motion on the table to adopt the Sept. 21 meeting minutes. Motion: Conner. Seconded: Boggs. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Bernardini, Boggs, Conner, Hunsaker, Sullivan, Yoder; Abstained—McGlinchy).
• To approve the Sept. 21 meeting minutes as amended. Motion: Hunsaker. Seconded: Conner. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Bernardini, Boggs, Conner, Hunsaker, Sullivan, Yoder; Abstained—McGlinchy). 
• To adopt the Nov. 16 meeting minutes as amended. Motion: Conner. Seconded: Boggs. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Bernardini, Boggs, Conner, Hunsaker, Sullivan, Yoder; Abstained—McGlinchy).
Note: Votes on chair and vice chair were completed through a ballot process. Conner was voted in as chair on a 5-2 vote; Sullivan was voted in as vice chair on a 4-3 vote.