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Berlin served with distinction and achievement

When chairwoman Carolyn Berlin announced her resignation from the

Planning Board at the May 12 meeting -- two years before her term

expired -- her colleagues on the board and city staff appeared

aghast.

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As she calmly read a prepared letter of resignation addressed to

the City Council, an air of shock and disbelief permeated the ornate

chamber more routinely associated with a cure for insomnia.

This reaction was entirely understandable since it is indeed an

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extraordinarily rare moment when a government official publicly takes

a strong stand based on principle, conviction and character rather

than fluff, self-interest or political expediency.

Mrs. Berlin clearly expressed the sentiments held by many

concerned citizens in this community when she stated "... the board

has not only lost much of its authority, but it is disrespected by

senior management staff and made less effective by this attitude.

When public officials do their best to represent their constituents

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... and they are publicly insulted or dismissed by senior management

staff, whether it is during meetings, in newspaper quotes or in

public, the voters, the taxpayers and the public process are

insulted. Today, the board has evolved into what is perceived by many

as an extension of staff. There are many constituents who do not

believe the recommendations by the staff serve the best interests of

the community and they are concerned, disappointed and disillusioned

with the public process.”

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Well, it did not take much time at all for the political insiders’

damage- control team to leap into action. Of course, there would be

no time to waste a breath thanking Mrs. Berlin for her long years of

exemplary volunteered public service, or heaven forbid, consider for

a moment that her statements concerning her resignation might be

true. Oh, no!

Instead, outgoing Planning Board member Gary Olson couldn’t

“substantiate” any lack or respect for the board. Community

Development Director Sue Georgino was quoted by the Leader as saying

the city staff’s role is merely “technical,” and its staff report

“reflects” the Planning Board’s recommendation to City Council.

Board member Margaret Taylor, who frequently aligns herself with

staff’s line on developer projects and proposals, jumped right on the

Georgino bandwagon, chiming in with how “professional” the staff is.

Finally, the icing on the cake was adeptly applied by just-elected

Councilman Jef Vander Borght, who is apparently blind to any

“evidence that city staff is running the show.”

Are Mrs. Berlin’s words and actions simply spur of the moment,

off-the-wall, emotional, knee-jerk reactions? Not likely. Having

served four years on the city’s Planning Board (1995-1999) including

once as chairman, I have observed, and can personally attest to, the

validity of much of what Mrs. Berlin has said.

Staff routinely reduces hours of thoughtful Planning Board

research and deliberation to a few carefully tailored sentences in

its reports to council. Does this practice accurately “reflect” the

board’s recommendations? Perhaps. But what ultimately appears before

the council is a reflection that has passed through a hall of muddy

mirrors and a rainbow of color filters. Interestingly, the director

did not say staff’s role was “objective.” Rather, she used the words

“technical.”

Anyone who follows the planning process in this city quickly

learns that technical decisions in the planning department are not

immune to subjective interpretation, powerful political influence and

spin. Staff regularly attempts to restrict the depth and breath of

areas of inquiry that individual board members attempt to explore.

This effort was recently championed by none other than Vander Borght

when he sought to codify limitations on planning board member’s

ability to ask developers and other applicants relevant questions

pertaining to their projects or requests.

Carolyn Berlin has stepped down from an important position of

local government with poise and dignity. She can proudly look back on

nearly a decade of service to her community rendered with distinction

and achievement. She was never shrunk or cowered from the

responsibilities or obligations of public service.

She has always served all the members of this city honestly,

honorably and fairly. Let us all be thankful and extend our heartfelt

appreciation to her for the many years of service and dedication to

the community she unquestionably loves.

David W. Gordon

Former Burbank Planning

Board member


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