BERLIN – The replacement of Dave Rovansek on the Berlin Planning Commission was due to a misunderstanding, several Berlin Mayor and Council members said Monday night before voting to establish an alternate for Rovansek, as he had originally requested.
Mayor Tom Cardinale proposed the alternate system Monday night, reversing his appointment of John Barrett as a permanent replacement for Rovansek from two weeks ago.
“In hindsight, it should have been a temporary appointment,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams.
“We were under the impression he had resigned,” Councilwoman Ellen Lang said.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch said the council incorrectly “assumed there was a vacancy.”
Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby called the mishap “an unfortunate misinterpretation.”
Cardinale said that he had understood the law to mean he must fill Rovansek’s seat, after Rovansek informed him this fall that he would not be able to attend to his commission duties while receiving treatment for a brain tumor in Baltimore.
“We never had an alternate,” Cardinale said to the town council. “You didn’t want alternates.”
According to town attorney Dave Gaskill, alternate members are permissible under the law.
“I’d like to suggest that Mr. Barrett be considered an alternate to the Planning Commission,” said Cardinale. “The mechanism of that is going to be up to the planning commission and the zoning office.”
“You’re talking about appointing a temporary member who’s going to step down when Dave comes back?” Lang asked.
Gaskill said the town could not appoint a temporary member.
“You have to appoint an alternate or you have to go ‘til Dave comes back,” he said.
An alternate, like a regular member, is appointed to a four-year term.
“He can be an alternate to anybody,” Cardinale said.
An alternate that attends every meeting and steps in as a voting member when another member is absent could be useful, Cosby said.
The commission has discussed that in the past, commission member Joe Hill said, and even proposed appointing a second alternate in case more than one member is ill at the same time.
The commission established rules in the last year, Hill said, calling for a member’s dismissal after four absences in a year or two consecutive absences.
“The planning commission cannot remove its own members. It can only refer to the town council,” Gaskill said.
The town council then must hold a public hearing and find neglect of duty, malfeasance or inefficiency, before the member can be dismissed.
The town council was unaware of the planning commission rules, several council members said.
“I do not believe with a seven-member panel you need an alternate unless they’re required to attend every meeting,” said Lynch. She reiterated later in the meeting, “I think seven people is enough on one committee.”
The commission needs an odd number of people to break tie votes, said Hill.
“I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” said Williams. “Mr. Rovansek should only have to not participate ‘til he’s well enough to come back and it should be at his discretion.”
The town council approved the alternate member for the planning commission, 4-1. Lynch voted against it. The council then voted unanimously to appoint Barrett to the alternate position.
“That’s the way the rules read. I’m glad to see that they’re paying attention to the adopted rules,” said Rovansek later that week. “I would love to get back and get some work done.”