Muckraker: Domotor resists appointments of CAMO members to town commissions in Mt. Airy
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In Mt. Airy, Councilman Stephen Domotor resisted the appointments of Heather Wallace to the town’s Planning Commission and Sean Kelly to its Board of Appeals, because of the pair’s affiliation with the community activist group known as Citizens Against Mt. Airy Overdevelopment (CAMO), a grassroots organization formed to moderate a series of ongoing residential and commercial development projects that may permanently change the landscape and character of the small town.
“She must recuse herself…”
When Mayor Larry Hushour nominated Wallace, a founding member of CAMO and the group’s web administrator, to the Planning Commission as an alternate to replace the now fully admitted Kim Buynak, Domotor expressed concerns about fairness and the potential for a CAMO bias to enter into the planning process. Domotor asked Hushour for two assurances if Wallace were to be admitted, first that she decouple herself from CAMO, and second that she recuse herself from any future votes involving the development of the Beck property, a 90 acre plot near South Main Street zoned for mixed-use, which Wallace and CAMO have been influential in moderating over the past couple years.
“The concern is that this individual, being a CAMO member and a founding member and administrator of the CAMO web page, is bringing forth biases and positions on different development topics to include the Beck property development,” Domotor explained. “And so the concern is that these biases will continue to perhaps bias any decision making within the Planning Commission.”
“So I’m looking for two assurances Mr. Mayor,” he said. “One is that Mrs. Wallace totally decouple herself from the CAMO organization.” And the other is that “She must recuse herself from any decision making pertaining to the Beck property development.”
Hushour responded to the first request, saying “I’m not going to make her leave that organization,” as he explained how citizens forming activist groups is often how they first get involved in local government, before rejecting the second request too, saying “As far as recusing goes, I’m afraid I’m not going to jump on that one either because we already have a member on the Planning Commission who’s been very active in that group.”
“We are looking at Heather Wallace the Mt. Airy citizen,” Council President Tim Washabaugh said. “I believe that Heather is a very independent thinking person that will put the town first.” Councilman Jason Evans agreed, saying “Mrs. Wallace’s intelligence and value to the town is just too hard to pass up for a position like this.”
When Washabaugh put Wallace’s appointment to a motion, it was approved, with he, Evans, and Councilman Karl Munder affirming it, while Domotor opposed it, and Councilwoman Lynne Galletti abstained. As an alternate member to the Planning Commission, Wallace will join the aforementioned Buynak along with Chairperson Bill Butts, Vice Chair Ralph Ghent, Leslie Dickinson, Martina Hatley, Stephen O’Malley, and Brian Bieda.
“We are voting on an individual, not a group.”
Earlier this Summer, when Hushour nominated another CAMO member, Sean Kelly, to the town’s Board of Appeals, Domotor was similarly concerned about the nominee’s affiliation with the influential activist group, asking “Is an individual going to be adjudicating on something on the Board of Appeals and be biased by the CAMO positions?”
After a rebuttal by Hushour, Washabaugh explained that citizens should not be penalized for organizing and participating in interest groups prior to seeking positions within local government: “I don’t want people to not get involved in fear that they will be judged if they try to then further themselves into the town government. So, I do not look at Sean as a problem being on the Board of Appeals just based on his CAMO situation.”
Munder agreed with Washabaugh, that group affiliation should not prevent someone from serving in local government: “We should not ever in this country or in this government here, not consider someone for a position on a commission solely based on group affiliation. It sets us down a very dangerous path and road which I can not agree on and be part of.”
Washabaugh concluded, saying “We are voting on an individual, not a group.” When the motion was called, he, Munder, and Evans affirmed it, while Domotor abstained. Galletti’s position was unclear.
From February: The stakes in Mt. Airy as town elections come near