Sean Kelly removed from his position as chief of current planning

Sean Kelly removed from his position as chief of current planning

Investigation uncovered no misconduct

Sean Kelly has been removed from his position as the city’s chief of current planning effective Dec. 4. Kelly has been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 22 awaiting the results of an internal investigation.

Kelly was informed of the decision in a 30-minute Dec. 4 meeting that also included Tad Delegal, Kelly’s lawyer, Director of Planning and Development Calvin Burney and Chief of Employee and Labor Relations Tracey Watkins. A letter from the meeting with the subject, “Appointed Reversion,” reads, in part:

“We are in receipt of your resignation letter requested in June 2011; accordingly, the administration has chosen not to retain you in your current position as Division Chief of Current Planning. According to section 17.06 of the City Charter you have reversion rights to the former class of Zoning Administrator or a comparable position. Your annual reversion salary has been calculated at $72, 802 and will be effective on December 11, 2012.”

The letter offered no reason for the demotion, but Delegal said that the investigation uncovered no wrongdoing on Kelly’s part.

“The meeting was very congenial. We asked them if their investigation found any indication of misconduct or wrongful actions by Sean and they said, ‘No;’ they found no grounds for any disciplinary or corrective action,” Delegal said. “While certainly disappointing, this is vindication for Sean because there were those who were accusing him of misconduct and that turned out not to be the case. They didn’t provide any reasons for the decision, just that they were accepting his resignation.”

All civil service employees submit a letter of resignation when there is a change in administration and Kelly submitted his when Mayor Alvin Brown took office. It is at the administration’s discretion to accept the resignation at any time, but the employee is protected and must be offered his or her previously held position, or, “reverted.”

Delegal said Kelly intends to accept the Zoning Administrator position, which would have him working closely with Burney. Kelly joined the planning department in 1996 and was appointed by Mayor John Peyton as chief of the current planning division in 2008, overseeing proposed zoning changes. That position paid around $90,000.

Kelly was targeted for investigation after city council members Lori Boyer and John Crescimbeni began questioning some planning department procedures.

Boyer, who is Land Use and Zoning Committee chair, said she never targeted Kelly.

“All I was doing was pointing out issues that I felt we needed to get a handle on. Maybe my concerns pushed Director Burney in that direction [of targeting Kelly] but that was not my intent,” she said. “Sean is experienced and competent, but there are nonetheless concerns about some department procedures. Do they go back to Sean? I don’t know.”

While he did not specifically name Kelly, Crescimbeni made no secret of his lack of confidence in some planning department employees.

“I have had long standing issues with the planning department, particularly with certain employees and the performance of their duties,” he said.

Boyer identified three concerns, two of which she addressed during a joint LUZ/Planning Commission meeting June 17: Too much flexibility in the way desired conditions to planned unit development rezoning are recorded and preserved, and LUZ not receiving enough information about the rationale for recommendations from Planning Commission meetings regarding approval or disapproval of items.

Boyer suggested creating formal PUD rezoning guidelines so LUZ does not inadvertently convert a condition which the Planning Commission intended to be inviolable into a site plan or narrative item that can be modified without LUZ or even Planning Commission approval. But in a recent phone interview, Boyer indicated the issue persists.

“There are still issues with the PUD process, PUD modifications and enforcement,” she said.

Regarding LUZ’s need to know more about Planning Commission deliberations, including rationale and vote tally, several possible solutions were aired at the June 17 meeting. Chief among them was that LUZ could view video and other detailed information of Planning Commission meetings online.

However, a sharply worded email dated Oct. 11 to Kelly from Sandy Simmons, Burney’s administrative assistant, indicated posting of information was not meeting expectations.

The email directed Kelly to “…make sure your staff understands that it is a must and very important that the [Planning Commission] site be kept up to date,” noting that excuses would not be tolerated.

“Please handle it in the Current Planning Division and use me only as a last resort, but be mindful, my last resort may not mean the same as your last resort so as the Chief, however you decide to handle it makes no difference, it is just the way it is being handled now is absolutely not working. My job now is to make sure it does not get back to the director’s level,” Simmons wrote in the email.

“That email just reflects the stress everyone was feeling. Sean shared the frustration, recognized those problems and worked hard to address them,” Delegal said.

Boyer’s third concern, discussed at an Oct.15 meeting convened by her and Crescimbeni to address “pending legislation to combine current planning and community planning departments, as well as LUZ issues and zoning procedures,” centered on zoning notice procedures regarding public notices allegedly not being followed. Three developments were cited: the proposed Mellow Mushroom restaurant in Avondale, Harbortown, a marina community on the Intracoastal Waterway at Atlantic Boulevard, and 5 Points Village, a shopping center in 5 Points.

Delegal, as well as attorney Steve Diebenow, who represents Mellow Mushroom and 5 Points Village, refute the allegations, arguing that there were either pending decisions that warranted delay in notification, honest oversight on the part of planning department personnel not overseen by Kelly, or that the notice issues are without merit.

“Sean is a real professional who knows zoning code as well as anyone in the city. There are allegations that he is ‘on the side of developers,’ but I can tell you that he’s ruled as much for neighbors and neighborhoods as for developers,” Diebenow said.

Delegal thinks that it was the overall dissatisfaction with the way the department functions that led to Kelly’s demotion.

“There has to be a scapegoat. They had to make a sacrifice. Sean understands that this is something that can happen when you are involved in the political process. He has every intention to fulfill his new position to the best of his ability.”

Folks Huxford, current zoning administrator, has been appointed to serve as acting division chief of current planning according to Mayor Brown’s Chief of Staff Chris Hand.

“The City will fill the position on a permanent basis as soon as possible. We look forward to working with [LUZ] Chairman Boyer and the City Council to ensure a fair and smooth planning process,” Hand said.

Still unclear is why Kelly was targeted, why he was demoted rather than kept in his chief position or anything about the nature and findings of the investigation.

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

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