The chairman of the Metro Planning Commission, who is also a developer, maintains there was no conflict of interest when he recently discussed with the department’s executive director the possibility of not renewing the contract of Planning Department Manager David Kleinfelter.
Additionally, in response to a series of questions raised at last week’s Planning Department budget hearing by Councilman Mike Jameson, both Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote and developer Eddie Latimer maintain their May meeting did not include discussions of Kleinfelter’s employment.
Per his interpretation of the minutes from two previous Planning Commission meetings, Kleinfelter had taken a hard line stance that the Swiss Ridge apartment development in Antioch needed sidewalks on both sides of the street. This irked developers associated with the deal, who believed there was an agreement that the sidewalk was only needed on one side of the street.
One of the 50-50 partners in the development is J2K Builders, a company co-owned by Planning Commission Chairman James McLean.
Around May 1, there was a meeting between Latimer, whose company Affordable Housing Resources is the other partner in the deal, and Hinote. Planning Department Executive Director Rick Bernhardt was also called to the meeting. Both Latimer and Hinote said the meeting consisted of Latimer airing his grievance about the sidewalk requirement holding up the next phase of his development.
Hinote said the meeting was strictly to discuss the hang-ups with the Swiss Ridge development and not whether Kleinfelter’s contract would be renewed. Meetings with interested parties who have concerns or issues with a Metro department are not unusual, Hinote said.
“The meeting was about resolving these issues with the development,” Hinote said
“That meeting was not about sidewalks, nor was it about David Kleinfelter,” Latimer said, echoing Hinote’s recollection of the meeting. “He was never a subject and his contract definitely never came up. David Kleinfelter’s name came up only as it related to his responsibility on the sidewalk issue.”
Kleinfelter’s contract did become a topic of conversation in a separate meeting where McLean said he broached the subject with Bernhardt.
Kleinfelter is a contract employee and has been in his current role as planning manager since 2002. The decision to renew his contract comes on a recommendation from Bernhardt and is then voted on by the Planning Commission. Bernhardt said the Commission has never gone against one of his recommendations on personnel matters.
“I didn’t go to that meeting to say, ‘He’s not going to be renewed,’” McLean told The City Paper Monday. “I went into that meeting to say, ‘He needs to remember the commissioners are the one who sign his contract.’ That’s what I meant to imply.”
McLean insisted his issues were with Kleinfelter’s approach to dealing with Planning Commission members. McLean said he did not bring up Kleinfelter’s contract because of any annoyance from dealing with the sidewalk requirement related to the project his company has an interest in, which had dated back to 2006.
McLean said he understood why the timing seemed suspect, given that he had a personal interest in a development that was being held up because of Kleinfelter’s interpretation of Planning Commission minutes from meetings in 2003 and in 2006.
“I should have brought it up three months ago,” McLean said, adding that their problem with the sidewalk requirement was that it would have been difficult to complete on both sides of the street.
At Bernhardt’s suggestion the minutes to those meetings were edited so that the sidewalk requirement was reduced to about 800 feet, less than half the original mandate. Bernhardt said the requirement was reduced because it was entered into the minutes incorrectly in the first place. When the vote was taken to edit the minutes, McLean did recuse himself from the meeting beforehand, records show.
Kleinfelter has admitted he can be brash and understood he might rub some the wrong way. But he was adamant last week that he was fair and worked hard at his job.
Bernhardt said he had no problems with Kleinfelter’s job performance.
Jameson’s questions in last week’s budget hearing to Bernhardt focused around Swiss Ridge at first and then turned to Kleinfelter’s future employment.
Bernhardt told Jameson he was summoned to a meeting in City Hall with Hinote and Latimer. Bernhardt said in the hearing that the topic of the meeting was Swiss Ridge and not issues surrounding Kleinfelter, although Kleinfelter’s name did arise at some point in the conversation.
Kleinfelter is viewed as a neighborhood advocate, who Jameson and other Council members say is an asset in their many dealings with developers. Kleinfelter said it is his desire to stay on in his current role. His contract ends at the end of the year and the decision to renew it, or not, will come this fall.