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DeKALB – The seven-member DeKalb Plan Commission is down to three after the resignation of two commissioners this week in the wake of the removal of the panel’s chairman by city officials.
Commissioner Joe Gastiger resigned in a letter dated Monday and marked as received by city staff on Wednesday. In the letter, Gastiger said the removal of former commission chairman John Guio “seems like an attempt to muzzle dissent on the Plan Commission.”
In the letter, Gastiger said he was disturbed by the city staff’s efforts to block a proposed expansion of Hope Haven homeless shelter, as well as the council’s decision to remove Guio.
“While he may have made a mistake in procedure – and I am not convinced that he did – I believe your response to be unnecessarily punitive,” Gastiger wrote in his letter to DeKalb aldermen.
Gastiger could not be reached for comment Thursday; his office said he is out of the country.
Commissioner Tom Specht also turned in a letter of resignation Thursday. Specht’s letter is more general, citing “personal reasons” for his decision to step down. When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Specht declined to elaborate.
The DeKalb City Council voted 6-2 on Monday to remove Guio from the commission, citing a violation of the city’s code of ethics. The violation stemmed from a Sept. 15 public hearing regarding a proposed expansion of Hope Haven.
Guio initially recused himself from voting, as his wife, Sue Guio, sits on the homeless shelter’s board of directors. When the commission deadlocked on a vote regarding the expansion, attempts were made to reach the city attorney to clarify the code of ethics. When the attorney could not be reached, Guio decided to vote.
Last week, Mayor Kris Povlsen removed Guio from the plan commission because of the vote on an issue where there was a conflict of interest. The council’s vote on Monday validated the removal.
When reached by phone Thursday, Guio declined to comment on the resignations. But he said the council’s decision to remove him from the commission did not come as a surprise.
“Someone told me it went from a conflict of interest to a conflict of politics really fast,” Guio said. “The vote did not surprise me.”
Povlsen said politics was not involved in his decision, and that he looked at whether or not Guio should be removed strictly from a legal standpoint.
“I will stand by my initial allegation that was brought toward the council that this was, from a legal standpoint, a conflict of interest,” Povlsen said. “In reviewing the plan commission ordinance it was a clear violation of the code of ethics.”
Povlsen added that he wasn’t surprised by Guio’s reaction.
“My guess is that in this case, it’s difficult to own up to the mistake that he made and it’s easier to place the blame elsewhere,” Povlsen said.
In his letter, Gastiger called Guio a “person of great integrity” who had done an “outstanding job” of leading the commission’s meetings. He also noted that city staff never raised a conflict-of-interest concern that John Guio sat on the plan commission board while Sue Guio worked for the city. She retired as the city’s acting city planner in June.
“Never once was there any apparent concern about a potential conflict of interest, and yet the first time she appears, now as an unpaid volunteer, to disagree with her own former colleagues – now there’s an outcry?” he wrote in his letter.
Povlsen said that he knew of people who were critical of Guio serving on the commission while his wife worked in the city’s planning department, and that he looked into that.
“I always felt that John and Sue did a good job of separating that,” he said. “It didn’t seem like a violation to me of a conflict of interest. I never saw any improprieties there. They were doing professional work.”
Povlsen said he has respect for both John and Sue Guio.
“That was what was so difficult about this decision, and such a surprise for me, that John would violate the code of ethics,” he added.
The removal of Guio and the two resignations, combined with a prior existing vacancy, leaves only three members on the commission, according to the plan commission page of the city’s website.
Since removing Guio from the commission, Povlsen said he has been approached by two people interested in serving on the panel. He will interview both of them by the end of next week to see if either would make a suitable appointment, he said. He also has two other candidates in mind who had expressed interest in the past in serving on the commission.
Povlsen said he has wanted to reorganize the city’s commissions anyway, combining some of them, such as the plan commission and the zoning board of appeals.
“I feel pretty positive getting some new blood and insight on the plan commission,” Povlsen said.
• Daily Chronicle News Editor Kate Schott contributed to this report.