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Conflict affects council vote

It wasn’t a game Tuesday night when three Grass Valley City Council members drew tiny slips of paper from a box during a public meeting.

Three of the council’s five members had recused themselves from voting because of conflicts of interest. But the two remaining council members needed a quorum to vote on a proposed new development code.

Vice-mayor Lisa Swarthout won the straw, and she was drafted as the third voting council member.



It’s been a couple years since a majority of the City Council or a commission had been conflicted and names had to be drawn, Community Development Director Joe Heckel said Wednesday.

On city committees, it’s something that can happen a couple times a year, perhaps, Heckel said.




Mayor Mark Johnson, Councilman Dan Miller and Swarthout recused themselves because they either own businesses or a building in Grass Valley’s historic downtown, where council members were being asked to prohibit nonretail offices on the first floor.

Swarthout owns Mill Street Clothing Co. at 117 Mill St. After returning to the dais in council chambers Tuesday, she couldn’t say a word regarding the proposed restriction.

“For those of you who know me, you know how difficult this is for me to stay quiet,” Swarthout said.

In a town as small as Grass Valley, it’s not as uncommon as some might think for a majority of council members to recuse themselves on an issue because of a potential conflict of interest, Swarthout said Wednesday.

The office ban was approved 3 to 0 and a host of other development code changes were approved Tuesday night, as well.

Miller, who with his wife Roxanne Miller owns Future Generations at 138 Mill St., said he understands the appearance of conflict but thought it was a stretch that he would benefit from the new zoning designation.

“I don’t think we would gain monetarily,” Miller said. He said Future Generations is more of a niche business that wouldn’t benefit from the added foot traffic anticipated with more retail businesses.

Johnson, who works at Foothill Flowers at 102 W. Main St. and owns the building the business is in, didn’t think the conflict of interest issue would continue being as much of a problem as it was Tuesday.

“It’s been a fairly unique situation,” Johnson said.

In the end, council members on Tuesday agreed to several new standards, including rezoning select property in the downtown district and surrounding neighborhoods to mesh better.

They put off voting on criteria for future drive-throughs in commercial areas and deeper waterway setbacks to allow for more study and public input.

To contact Staff Writer Greg Moberly, e-mail gregm@theunion.com or call 477-4234.


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