The mayor of Lebanon said he stands by his decision to vote in place of a member of the Planning Commission, even after three members announced their resignations.
Lebanon Planning Commission members Dan Mack, Pam Black and Beulah Garrett submitted their resignations this week after a slim 4-3 approval of a $4 million Cumberland Drive hotel project.
During that vote, Mayor Philip Craighead stepped in to vote in place of Mack to sway the decision in favor of approving the project. Mack had intended to vote against the project, and the mayor's vote essentially flipped a failed project to an approved one.
Craighead said he holds personal relationships with all three, especially with Mack whom he called a close personal friend.
When asked if he stands by his decision considering the resignations, he responded "most definitely."
"I love and respect them all, but my job is to do what's best for Lebanon. I felt I had to do it.
"I've called them all since. We still love each other; we're still tight-knit.
"But I have to look at the return on investment at Legends Drive expansion that just broke ground. The Expo Center is about to open, and we are already short of hotel rooms. With this hotel we're talking 25-plus jobs, close to Logan's, and it will support many businesses all over Lebanon."
'Designated voter' provision
After failing to receive approval from the Planning Commission earlier this year, developers of MyPlace Hotel made adjustments and presented the plan again to the commission members during last month's meeting.
However, worried the planners would again fail to approve the project and see the developer walk, Craighead chose to use a little-known provision under the City Charter to vote in place of his "designated voter," which was Mack.
That provision states that one member of the Planning Commission may be titled as the mayor's "designated voter," meaning the mayor can vote instead of the member.
Mack had already voted against the project once and intended to vote against it again because of the orientation of the building, which has frontage on Cumberland Center Blvd. next to Logan's Roadhouse. However, the building is designed to face south toward Interstate 40. The orientation was also the main reason the project was denied in the previous meeting, according to Craighead.
"I appointed Dan several months ago, prior to the approval of the apartment projects at Five Oaks and behind Sellars Funeral Home because I know he is a detail-oriented, great guy," Craighead said. "I knew he would study things, he would ask questions and even though we might disagree, we could respect each other's opinions."
In fact, Mack's first vote as a member of the Planning Commission was used to vote against the apartments proposed for Five Oaks Blvd. He stated his mutual trust in the mayor, calling him an "old friend" and said he's "never known my friend the Mayor to ever lie to me in any way - and I still believe that to be true today."
Craighead added this was the first time he's used the little-known provision.
"(Mack) didn't realize that he was my 'designated voter,' but I did tell him that when he was appointed."
In his resignation letter, Mack stated that he was not aware that he was the "designated voter" for the mayor and asked if that title could be removed. However Craighead said it would be "bad policy" to designate another member of the commission who previously had been serving.
According to Craighead, the building envelope is irregularly-shaped and prevented rotating without making contact with the property line, which he said would have been more detrimental to the project than the orientation.
"If it would have failed a second time, I believe the developers would have left and never come back," he said. "And that could spread all throughout the industry, not just hotels and motels, but all prospective businesses, and developers would simply think the grass might be greener somewhere else."
The project is expected to generate close to $60,000 in hotel/motel taxes for the area annually.
In addition to Mack, who was a recent appointee, Black and Garrett had 12 years and 21 years of experience on the Planning Commission, respectively.
And Craighead was quick to point out the impact they had on Lebanon while serving.
"Pam had a great influence on the board for such a long time, keeping an eye on the details, making sure the locations of the dumpsters and buildings looked great and gave a good impression of Lebanon.
"Buelah with her involvement on other boards, and her involvement with the Chamber, too.
"Just think about where the Square would be without the Blacks and the work they've done with the Capitol Theatre."
Requests for comment from Black and Garrett were not received before press time.
Managing Editor Zack Owensby may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.