Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
A controversial zoning certificate caused a split vote in the Carbondale City Council over Kevin Baity’s appointment as the new city manager.
The City Council met Tuesday night at the Civic Center to vote to confirm Baity. Councilwoman Jane Adams was the lone no vote in the 6-1 decision.
Council members Don Monty and Lee Fronabarger and Mayor Joel Fritzler voiced their support of Baity at the meeting, while Adams reiterated her reservations.
Mayor Joel Fritzler announced Jan. 4 the Carbondale City Council had reached a consensus on appointing Baity after months of searching from candidates across the country. Baity has been acting city manager since Allen Gill retired in November.
Shortly after Fritzler made the announcement, councilwoman Jane Adams sent out a press release indicating she did not agree with Baity’s appointment and would be voting against it.
Baity said he was most likely given an edge in the race for the appointment because of his insight of ongoing issues and projects.
“He’s ready to hit the ground running,” Fritzler said.
In an extensive blog entry, Adams laid out her primary reasons for opposing Baity’s appointment. She said he’d violated the city’s code at least twice.
She said one of the two violations involved Baity overstepping his authority in August by granting a zoning certificate for an auto repair shop in a former warehouse on Oakland and Sycamore. The building is located in a residentially zoned area and is designated in the city’s Comprehensive Plan for rehabilitation.
Adams said city staff refused to grant the zoning certificate because the building had not been used as a repair shop in the past and was in a residential area, but Baity overrode them and granted it anyway.
The certificate was later rescinded on Nov. 18 by Baity after he, Gill and City Attorney Mike Kimmel reviewed documents concerning the historical uses of the building and determined that auto repair was not an allowed use.
While the certificate was eventually voided, Adams said Baity misrepresented the facts of the case to her when she inquired about them and his actions showed either disregard for or ignorance of the proper division of the powers of the city manager and the City Council, which should have disqualified him.
“Kevin Baity does not appear to or has not appeared in the past, to understand those distinctions and our respective responsibilities,” she said at the Council meeting.
Baity said earlier he would not comment on the issue.
Fritzler said the zoning certificate case was clearly a mistake and should not have happened, but it should by no means disqualify Baity.
“We all make mistakes,” he said.
Adams said she could not know Baity’s motivations for his actions, and they may have been done out of ignorance of his proper duties, but she found it hard to believe considering his years of administrative experience.
“If it was a mistake, it was a mistake of judgement,” she said.
Adams also took issue with Fritzler’s decision to announce Baity’s selection on Jan. 4 before an official vote had been taken, and she wrote in a press release that it may have violated the Open Meetings Act because the Council’s discussions on the appointment were closed to the public.
Fritzler said he had no doubt about the propriety of the announcement, and he checked with all the City Council members before doing it. He said Adams was the only one who had any objections.
He said Adams’ arguments against Baity’s appointment have not shaken his belief that Baity is right for the job.
Baity, who’s worked for the city since 2006, was a strong candidate primarily because of his familiarity with the city, he said.
“We wanted to make sure we got someone who was connected to the community and who was committed to the community,” he said.
Councilman Chris Wissmann said it was Baity’s familiarity with the minute details of the city that gave him an advantage, as well as his agreeable personality, which Wissmann hopes will trickle down through the city staff.
“He’s incredibly personable, very nice, easy to deal with, and I think the city could benefit a great deal from that kind of personality,” he said.
He said none of Adams’ objections raised any concerns with him about Baity.
While Adams said Baity clearly has a number of good traits, the fact that he’s already well established in the city government could be a liability, as his appointment could be seen as an example of cronyism and promote the perception that the city favors those with connections and influence.
She said the other finalist, Robert Knabel, of Collinsville, could have brought an outsider’s perspective to the city.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Monty said Baity was not his first or last choice, and he too had taken issue with his handling of zoning issues. However, he said he had a long discussion with Baity, who he’s sure now understands the city’s priorities.
“In my view, we need to continue to promote business, but we must place neighborhood protection as a higher goal,” he said. “I believe Mr. Baity understands this.”
Fritzler said at the meeting that Baity was always his first choice, and had originally mentioned to a few Council members that Baity was a clear candidate for the job and a $20,000 search process wasn’t necessarily needed. Nevertheless, the Council decided to hire the firm Voorhees Associates to conduct a nationwide search.
“We proceeded to see what’s out there, and came to the conclusion that Mr. Baity is our No. 1 choice,” Fritzler said.
Baity said the main three projects he’ll be tackling as he takes office will be the budget creation process for fiscal year 2013, work on rewriting the city’s zoning code and finalizing the design and construction of the new fire station.
As for his administrative style, he said he’s not one to micromanage and he isn’t looking to leave any kind of personal mark on the position.
After the vote Tuesday, Baity said one of his longterm goals is to work toward a downtown restoration master plan.
He said he harbored no resentment toward those who may have made accusations about his motivations in the decisions he made concerning the zoning certificate, and he would move on from the controversy.
“It comes with the job,” he said.