Outgoing P&Z board chair claims politics at center of him not being reappointed

Published 9:00 am Friday, June 25, 2021

Hunt says he never met chair until recently

Long-time Boyle County Planning and Zoning board member and chair Jerry Leber expressed his displeasure with Judge-Executive Howard Hunt and what Leber said was Hunt’s lack of professionalism when he replaced him on the board two weeks ago with Tom Ruby and claimed politics were involved.

“I may regret this, but I’m going to regret it more if I don’t,” Leber said at the end of the regular P&Z meeting Wednesday morning. “So here we go.”

Reading from a prepared statement, Leber said, “This is my last P&Z meeting, and that’s not by choice. I’ve been on P&Z for 16 years, and in the 16 years the P&Z has been a completely nonpolitical body, and it needs to remain that way and I’m not so sure that that’s going to continue to happen, what I understand.”

He added, “This thing may sound like sour grapes, and maybe it is, but not maybe for the reasons you might think.”

Leber said he was called on a Tuesday from someone who said he wasn’t going to be reappointed to the board when his term was up at the end of June. “I was somewhat surprised, but not totally.”

Leber said after serving on the board for 16 years, he expected to receive some sort of a formal notification about not being reappointed.

But by that Friday, when he hadn’t received the notification, he met with Hunt at the courthouse to verify the news and ask him why.

Leber said Hunt told him, “Something like, I’d been on Planning and Zoning long enough and they needed a new face, and we, whoever we is, met with the person and he had some good ideas and we wanted to go in a new direction.”

Leber said he also asked Hunt why he wasn’t notified of the decision and who was supposed to notify him, and Hunt said he didn’t know.

“I asked am I not worthy to serve any more, he said that wasn’t the case. Then I asked was I not appointed because I’m a Democrat. He said he didn’t know what anybody’s political affiliation was and I find that hard to believe,” Leber said.

Leber gave the example that board member Susie Kelly had told him she wouldn’t be reappointed when her term was up because she was a Democrat, “And she didn’t.”

So, Leber said he asked Hunt if that was the case and Hunt said no.

“I said I’m a Democrat and asked if that’s why I’m not getting reappointed. He said no, that was not the case.”

Leber said, “So, you make of that what you want. Read between the lines if you want. But I think that is the case. I didn’t get reappointed because I am a Democrat, at least registered.”

Leber said he asked Hunt if he thought “a California transplant” could better serve Boyle County citizens and community than I, a native that has lived here for 65 years at least. And he said, well again, he (Ruby) had some new ideas and he liked what he said.”

“I find it interesting that he knew how to find a new person but didn’t know how to notify the person that’s not going to be reappointed,” Leber said.

“I’m not so bothered by not being reappointed … but I wanted to go out on my terms, not on somebody else’s. So what has really bothered me and stuck in my craw … is that no one in the courthouse, specifically Howard Hunt, did not have the courage, backbone, wherewithal, common courtesy, professional courtesy, professional integrity, personal integrity, to come to me prior to simply say, ‘Jerry we are not going to reappoint you, appreciate your service’ or whatever.”

Leber added, “That just seemed to be totally, totally unprofessional, and I was just appalled by it and I said that to him.”

Leber said two days after his meeting with Hunt he received a letter notifying him that he wasn’t going to be reappointed. “The ironic thing was the letter was postmarked two days before I met with him (Hunt) and the letter had his signature on it and I assume he wrote it and signed it. So it really confused me that he didn’t know who was to notify me, yet he sent a letter with his signature on it saying that I was not reappointed.”

“Go figure that,” Leber said.

“My issue, if there is one, is the total lack of professionalism, lack of respect shown to me in a way that this whole thing was handled. Surely our judge executive can do better than that.”

Leber then described how he felt.

“Just two weeks ago COVID masks were really important and everybody used them and they were really valuable. And now, you find them lying in the Walmart parking lot. They’re no use at all, and that’s kind of where I am, the way it hit me. Two weeks ago I felt pretty important to Planning and Zoning and this community. And now I’m like that COVID mask laying in the Walmart parking lot.”

On a positive note, Leber said, “But anyway, now that I got that off my chest,” he then shared a long list of things that P&Z had accomplished during his tenure including: revision and adoption of P&Z and board of adjustments bylaws; revised monthly financial report and job descriptions for employees; reviewed downtown historic guidelines; revised all P&S application forms; revised fee schedules; launched a new P&Z website; rewrote the zoning ordinance; updated comprehensive plan; revised subdivision regulations; developed and revised the Perryville and Junction City zoning maps; brought Junction City back as a member of P&Z;  and conducted smart growth planning conference where more than 200 people attended.

The commission also made cuts in employee staff, and discontinued their own payments to save the P&Z department money. He estimated that their actions to make the office more financially efficient “totals approximately $460,000 we’ve saved of taxpayers of Danville and Boyle County simply by implementing those changes.”

Leber said he thinks that the P&Z office and operations were the “best organized, most customer friendly, most financially efficient since it’s ever been formed.”

“I’m not taking credit for all of these, hardly any of it… Credit is due to all the hard work and perseverance of the staff and all of the commissioners that I’ve been fortunate to serve with. Every commissioner has come in, to my knowledge, without an agenda, not looking for notoriety, not looking for credit and completely nonpolitical. They simply work for the betterment of the community. And I hope that continues.”

After noting all of the positive accomplishments of the P&Z office and board and questioning why a “new direction” and “new face” was needed for the board, Leber said, “When performance versus politics, politics always wins. Performance always comes in second.”

He also stated that he thought P&Z Director Steve Hunter “was one of the best P&Z directors in the state” and the administrative assistant was one of the best customer service representatives.

In closing, Leber had two recommendations for the commission:

“Keep it nonpolitical. Don’t let the city and the county take over. Keep it totally independent.”

The second was “Let Steve do his job. Do not try to micromanage. He knows his job and knows what to do, probably better than all of us put together. Let him do his job.”

When Leber finished speaking, no members of the commission commented on his remarks.

On Thursday, Hunt responded to Leber’s accusations in an email. He wrote, “Appointees are a reflection of the fiscal Court and should always remember that oftentimes, they are the eyes and voice for the court when they conduct business throughout the community.

“Mr. Leber had served four terms – 16 years on planning and zoning and since I was elected two and a half years ago, Mr. Leber never once reached out to me to discuss planning and zoning or any relevant items on their agendas. I never met Mr. Leber before he came to my office about the appointment decision.”

County Administrator Julie Wagner added, “Judge Hunt has never made any personnel or appointments based on political affiliation. He has appointed and reappointed Democrats who represent the county well. There is nothing that precludes Judge Hunt from selecting someone else to serve, and I can personally attest that I attended most, if not all meetings with the judge as he met with potential appointees to Planning and Zoning. Never once did party affiliation enter in to the discussion.”

SO YOU KNOW

At the fiscal court meeting on June 8, after Hunt nominated Tom Ruby to replace Leber, Magistrate Tom Ellis said, “After that one meeting that we had where he had attended with us at the fire station a couple months back, he asked if I’d meet with him. We ended up having a lunch meeting for over two hours, and I have not met anybody more equipped on broader way of issues than Tom Ruby, and I think he will be a tremendous asset as we struggle through some of the things that already are on the horizon and others that we might not even anticipate. He has such a breadth of knowledge all over the country and quite frankly, all over the world. We’re very lucky to have him as a citizen, and that’s why I strongly support his membership on our planning and zoning board.

Hunt replied, “I appreciate that, thank you, that is well said.”

The letter officially notifying Leber that he would not be reappointed was dated June 8. It said in part, “With your term ending on June 20, 2021, I want to extend my gratitude for sering 16 years on Planning and Zoning. it has been my philosophy as Judge Executive to give new citizens a chance to get involved in their areas of interest. New appointments will bring a fresh perspective and range of new ideas to our community.

“A new appointment is not a reflection on your service. I wanted to take a moment to recognize your contributions to our community and acknowledge the countless hours of service you have given toward the betterment of Danville and Boyle County….”