Developer's lawyer cites conflict of interest in Trestle Crossing hearing
A Historic Resources Commission hearing on the controversial Trestle Crossing project Sept. 20 was recessed for two weeks after the developer's attorney asked a commission member to recuse herself from a vote that would allow the project to go forward.
Michael Begley, a former town mayor who practices law here, contended commissioner Shandra Richardson should sit the vote out because her husband owns Black Mountain Ale House, which sits beside the planned development. Citing concerns with Trestle Crossing's size and scale, Richardson was part of a commission majority that voted in August against granting the developer a certificate of appropriateness. Joining her were commissioners Monica Hayden and Shannon-Heather Wall.
During the hour-and-a-half meeting at Town Hall Sept. 20, Begley made his case that Richardson should recuse herself. "If she chooses not to recuse herself," he said, "then we ask that the board decide on the propriety of her participation (in) the hearing."
Richardson, a commission member since June 2015, said she would talk to town attorney Ron Sneed before deciding what to do.
Begley raised the issue prior to the business the commission intended to take up Sept. 20 - considering whether to grant developer Joe Cordell, a part-time resident of Black Mountain, a re-hearing on the appropriateness of Trestle Crossing, a development he hopes to build at 120-128 Broadway Ave.
Begley contended that Richardson's ability to be impartial is compromised by the proximity of her husband's business to the proposed project. Begley said a quasi-judicial hearing, like the one Aug. 16 in which the board denied the project's application, must be an impartial.
In a lengthy and complex presentation, Begley submitted 10 exhibits to support his contention that Richardson should abstain from any commission vote that affects the neighbor of her husband's business. He said asking for Richardson to recuse herself was "as much about the perception of fairness as it is about actual fairness."
Richardson told Begley that she had expressed to Sneed her concerns about possible conflicts of interest. (Sneed was not at the meeting Sept. 20.)
"The second that this project came before the historical commission I went to Mr. Sneed," she said. "I said, 'here's the deal - John owns this building here, do I need to recuse myself?' He said no. And of course he's not here tonight, which is unfortunate because I don't know how to respond to this."
Debra Wooton, the chair of the commission, addressed her own conversations with Sneed on the subject.
"I had a conversation with Mr. Sneed after the (Aug. 16) meeting, and he clearly stated to me that he had a deep concern that commissioner Richardson heard the matter," she said.
Wooton called a five-minute recess at the conclusion of Begley's presentation. When the meeting resumed, Richardson expressed uncertainty about how to proceed. "Since Mr. Sneed is not here to help me with this, I guess I will recuse myself," she said.
Commissioner Wall immediately asked if the discussion could be tabled until Sneed's return from vacation. Attorney Bill Morgan, who was filling in for Sneed, said Wall's motion would be appropriate. "Then I'd like to make a motion that we table this until Mr. Sneed is available," Wall said.
Richardson rescinded her statement regarding recusal. "I'd like to speak with Ron (Sneed) first to make sure I'm giving my best service," she said.
The meeting went into recess until 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4.