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Is there a conflict of interest on the planning board against the proposed VSM campus?

OPINION COLUMN

Southern also said there is no formal membership in the CPCS and therefore he is not a “member” of the group. He said he has attended numerous CPCS meetings in the past “because there’s lot of misinformation out there and I like to keep things clean and up front.” For example, he said that after the Nov. 1 CPCS meeting he spoke to a few residents about the proposed artificial turf field for the VSM campus. They did not understand the materials the turf was made from or the possible environmental impacts such turf could have, and he clarified for them the actual facts.

When I asked Southern a second time if he felt his comments were a conflict of interest, and I read him my report and his exact quotations from the meeting, he replied, “It could be construed that way I suppose. It’s just me as an individual. I’m on the [planning] board. If they have enough information to draw into question the decision we have made [on the SEQRA environmental assessment] I would request that it be reopened – just based on information that comes in after the fact.”

Southern seemed genuinely surprised when I first asked him if his “membership” in CPCS and his comments at the meeting were in conflict with his planning board responsibilities, and I have no intention to impugn his character, but to me this is a serious situation. Just because Southern is an appointed public official does not mean he is not also a resident and an individual, and I have no qualms with him attending CPCS meetings or even being considered a “member” of the organization. He has every right to do both things. Holly Gregg told me that Zoning Board of Appeals chair David Graham is also a “member” of CPCS – but Graham was not at the CPCS meeting and he certainly did not make any public comments advising the group on how to oppose a project in which he is directly involved. And therein lies the conflict of interest.

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Comments

skangirl 1 year, 5 months ago

CPCS members probably would be outraged "if Southern had attended a meeting of the VSM development team and offered them similar comments/advice in private on how they could harness public opinion in support of their development." There is, however, a difference between a public official trying to ensure that citizens' best interests are served and a public official aiding a private developer in pursuit of private interests (i.e., profits). There's a difference between being objective and being impartial. Our representatives in government are supposed to be objective, but they are also supposed to be partial toward the community they serve. That's why they are considered to be "representatives".

Mr. Southern could work harder to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests, but we have to be realistic: In Skaneateles, each of us is only one or two "degrees of separation" from every other resident. Isn't it unrealistic to believe that someone can be 100% impartial when friends, neighbors and family are involved?

It should also be noted that Mr. Southern soundly chastised the anti-development contingent attending the zoning board hearing on the light variance. At that time, it appeared that he was on the developer's side.

It would be nice if people on both sides of this issue would stick to the facts, not attempt to obscure the facts, and attempt to be civil in the process.

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