POSTED ON MAY 12, 2010:
When the tune stops, city council may once again deny a Bartlett appointment to TMAPC
A Good or Bad Appointment? City councilors say Eric Gomez may weigh real estate development community interests over neighborhood interests on TMAPC.
As the most vocal proponent of Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s appointment of Eric Gomez to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton was disappointed that a solid majority of his fellow councilors indicated they were opposed to voting in favor of confirming the move last week.
Disappointed but not surprised.
"No, at this point in city governance, nothing would surprise me," he said.
And he doesn't hold out much hope of his associates changing their minds and voting to confirm the appointment.
"An approximation of zero," he said, characterizing Gomez's chances.
The notion that Gomez's appointment was dead on arrival when it reached the council last week is an idea shared by a number of observers, many of whom believe the mayor made the appointment only because his 60-day window for appointing someone to the Planning Commission was about to expire. If Gomez's appointment is blocked by the council, that 60-day time period begins anew.
"That's what we think," said District 6 Councilor Jim Mautino, who said he will not support the appointment when the council votes on it (next) week. "(Bartlett) pretty much knows (Gomez will) be voted down. (Bartlett) just wanted to extend it another 60 days."
Local political blogger Michael Bates agreed.
"There's no possibility the appointment is going to be approved," he said. "This is a stalling tactic, more than anything else. Even if Gomez is rejected, the clock gets reset."
Terry Simonson, Bartlett's chief of staff, said the mayor made the appointment of Gomez based solely on merit.
"Eric has all those credentials to be a good planning commissioner," Simonson said. "That's why (Bartlett) advanced his name forward to serve."
But Simonson acknowledged Gomez faces a difficult road to confirmation and indicated the mayor will try again if Gomez is rejected.
"He may not have the votes on it, but that should in no way dampen Eric's qualifications and character," he said. "If they vote him down, the mayor will look to find another candidate."
Gomez, who served as the District 4 member of the council until last fall, when he lost re-election to Maria Barnes, is among those who believe his appointment has little chance of succeeding.
"Well, I think if people do the right thing, the vote will be confirmed," he said. "However, judging by this council's collusive nature, they've already made their decision."
Gomez believes he would be a good addition to the Planning Commission, based on his experience as a councilor.
"Really, there's nobody more qualified, based upon the work I've done with the Infill Task Force, championing the downtown housing study, bringing in the International Downtown Association and doing a large amount of work that deals with the relationship of residential and retail integration," he said.
But most of the objections to his appointment stem from his perceived ties to the development community. A number of councilors have expressed the belief that the Planning Commission is lacking in neighborhood advocates, a situation they maintain has resulted in a number of decisions unfriendly to homeowners during the years.
"What it amounts to is, Eric fits in with the rest of the people on the Planning Commission," Mautino said. "What I'm trying to do as a councilor is get some balance on there. We need some neighborhood representatives who understand zoning and what zoning does to citizens."
Eagleton doesn't buy the argument that Gomez, who works in the real estate industry, is too close to developers to bring a balanced perspective to the Planning Commission.
"That seems a bit squishy," he said.
The Republican councilor took an acerbic tone when addressing the concerns of those opposed to the appointment.
"We're going to keep a guy off the Planning Commission who knows how to develop property? Are you kidding me? Really?" he asked. "He knows how to build a house, so he shouldn't be on the TMAPC? Really? I guess it's a race to the bottom."
Bates said he isn't surprised Gomez's appointment has run afoul of the council, given the background of some of its members. He pointed out three members of the council -- Mautino, Roscoe Turner and Barnes -- who are former neighborhood association presidents or were actively involved in their neighborhood associations, making it more neighborhood friendly than in the past.
He also said there's no question Gomez is solidly in the camp of development interests.
"Oh, definitely. You can look at his contribution records and his own professional involvement now," Bates said, referring to Gomez's involvement in the real estate industry. "His decisions in office didn't give much consideration to the concerns of people who aren't developers."
Mautino said there needs to be more parity between development interests and neighborhood interests not only on the Planning Commmission, but on the Board of Adjustment, as well.
"We wanted to break it down so the neighborhoods could have more control over what comes into their area," he said. "We didn't get that done, so the thing we can do now is get more neighborhood representatives on these boards."
Bates -- who writes the local political blog batesline.com -- said Bartlett's decision to appoint Gomez to the board reflects the mayor's perspective on development issues, especially with the approval of PLANiTULSA still looming.
"He wants business as usual, as far as how zoning and land use is handled in the future," Bates said.
But Gomez said there's only one issue councilors should be considering. According to the city charter, he said, councilors are instructed to base their decisions on the qualifications of the mayor's appointees.
"They have nothing other than political reasons to vote me down, not qualification issues," he said.
He also said he had never voted against a Planning Commission appointee during his term on the council from 2008 to 2009. In fact, he noted, he voted to support the appointment of current TMAPC Chairwoman Michelle Cantrell, who later worked in the campaign of Barnes when Barnes successfully challenged Gomez for the District 4 seat last fall.
"I not only didn't come out against anybody, I even (voted in favor of) somebody (with whom) I have divergent political views," he said.
Bartlett has tried to fill the seat once before. In March, he appointed real estate agent John Judd to the seat, but the council rejected that move.
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