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
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
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
... 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.”
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
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