Planning Commission chair denies conflict of interest

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 8:46am

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.

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By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This issue and its outcome will be a good litmus test as to what kind of mayor Karl Dean will be. I don't know if he or a prior mayor appointed McLean but this is clearly a case of the fox in the henhouse. My take on who should not be involved in city planning is towards Kleinfelter remaining in his job.

By: dogmrb on 12/31/69 at 6:00

There are probably many sides to this dispute and it would be more helpful if the NCP would talk to all parties. David is a very passionate and smart advocate for whatever position he takes but his professional training is as a lawyer, not a planner. Entirely different personality types usually are attracted to these two fields.

By: BSMadDog39 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Isn't Jameson just using the media to pressure the Mayor on keeping this guy around? I'm I missing something here? I wish the Councilman from East Nashville would focus more on the budget and less on one guy's job. It's a little scary that he allows his friendship with this guy in the planning department to interfere with the business of the City Council especailly when we are laying off hundreds---where are his priorities??????

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Nate, glad to see you followed up on my post from Friday about a potential conflict of interest in this situation.Good work.

By: sandburn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

“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.”"That's what I MEANT TO imply."? Bad backtracking. What he DID imply was a poorly disguised threat.At the very least, Mr. McLean should recuse himself ANY time a property in which he has an interest is up for a vote.Time for Truth is correct that this will be a good litmus test for Mayor Dean. Voters will be watching.

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

There are some Metro Commissions which seem to be floundering. Not sure on this one what happened. However, in general, if Metro's Commission members are appointed by a mayor and approved by council, does ANYONE have oversight after they are appointed?

By: BlueInTn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Is the vice mayor's husband not involved in this? There is a lot to this story not being told. Hence the memo Neighbors sent to the council and glad Jameson hit back on it too. Beware a vice mayor with a developer as a husband

By: BSMadDog39 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

blueintnWe should all stand up and applaud Vice Mayor Neighbor's for having the courage to say old school "politics" has no place in the City's hiring decisions. In the old days you didn't get a job in Metro unless you knew someone---in the Fire Department it was "who is your daddy" to refer to the politically connected person who "got" you the job. Seems East Nashville's Councilman Jameson didn't fall too far from the tree and was trying to smear the Vice Mayor to make sure his guy got or kept his job. Good for her to call him out. Maybe this will be the last of the old Nashville. It's about time.

By: BSMadDog39 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

By the way Steve Neighbor's is about as much a "developer" as I am the Titan's quarterback. He does housing for moderate income folks. I met him a East Nashville reception and asked him about his work. Not all "developers" are bad folks. You got your house from one as did I. Developers build the stores where we shop and the schools my kids go too.

By: girliegirl on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Steve has a fair reputation of providing quality homes for first-time home buyers, or as they term it, low income housing. He's most certainly not a "developer" by any stretch of the imagination. As for the rest of the people on the commission, you can't have just one type, the kind that whine and cry for fuzzy feel good neighborhood trappings without the hard core necessities that go along with them. Nearly all the members have some kind of background that makes them "familiar" with the workings of a Planning Commission. After all, you don't want Jessica Simpson sitting up there! lol So that leaves us with individuals with varying degrees of qualifications to serve on these panels. Geez, guys, get a grip. The true conflict of interest is these Council Members (Kleinfelter) who used to serve on Council and then found a way to lobby for a real Metro job, since they were already entrenched. Now there's some fodder.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Girlie, you don't want Jessica Simpson sitting up there (and on your prior posts on this issue you sounded darn close) but you also don't want the people who profit from development running the show. This is PLANNING, not a spoils system!You look at a broad landscape(especially in Metro) and decide how to best allocate land uses in areas. Do we even have a Land Use Plan? If so, was that plan drawn up by people qualified to do so or by people who make the most money by having 'wide open' zoning? I see the worst example of Metro planning in Antioch, where they can't build schools fast enough to keep up with willy-nilly sprawl development. BTW that's your tax dollars, folks. Unfortunately the existing tax base there didn't have the wealth and political clout that those to the southwest of downtown have. Former Councilperson and perennial candidate for everything else 'Sprawletta' Hollaway never met a developer she didn't like.It sounds like the kind of Planning Commission Mayor Dean wants needs a David Kleinfelter to keep them honest.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Time for an Adequate Facilities Fee? I think so!

By: Anna3 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Kleinfelter is very much a jerk toward the public most of the time. I don't subscribe to developers on the planning commission but Kleinfelter needs to go because he tries to make each project his personal little feifdom and squeeze concessions from developers that are not required by law... only because he can. Kleinfelter has a mean little edge to him that is very scary when its exhibited by a person in a position of governmental power. Kleinfelter puts the "petit" in "petit bureaucrat". It's time for him to go! Folks...who do you think pays for those concessions? The purchaser of the home, building, or business Kleinfelter gigged...and ultimately you and I as we purchase the goods & services or our homes from these businesses.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

From the mouth of someone who thought Eric Crafton should be involved in the education of our children......

By: speakup on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Sounds like government, as usual. This time, however, the tifs over who benefits the most between them was exposed to the public. Latimer, Hinote, McLean, and on, ad infinitum - sounds like Bush, his VP who owns the oil interest in Iraq and more.Is there a great deal of difference between city, state, and federal officials who will not give up their private control/interests.