Handling of panel changes decried

Ex-appointees say mayor alluded to age, told them of decision in parking lot


May 20, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Romeo Valianti has spent 12 years on Westminster's Board of Zoning Appeals. Larry Wiskeman has been on the city's Planning and Zoning Commission for 13 years.

Both were stung by not being among those on a list of reappointments by the city Common Council last week despite their long service - and upset by the way the turnover was handled by Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff.

Valianti and Wiskeman say the mayor told them in curt meetings that he was appointing younger volunteers to the commissions. The two also characterized the manner in which they were told by Dayhoff - in a parking lot at City Hall - as unprofessional.

"He said he was going toward young people," said Valianti, 79, who did not want to be reappointed to another three-year term but was hurt by the way the situation was handled. "I assumed that meant I was too old."

Wiskeman, 59, who had sought reappointment, said he was given the same reason.

"There is a professionalism that goes with an office of that type," Wiskeman said. "He didn't handle it in a professional matter."

Dayhoff, who has the authority to make such appointments, defended his decision in an interview yesterday and said he remembered his conversations with Valianti and Wiskeman differently.

"The term I used was that I wanted to reach into the next generation of volunteers," Dayhoff said. By that, he meant that he wanted to give new volunteers a chance to serve on city committees, the mayor said. He denied that age played a factor in his decision.

City boards and commissions draw on unpaid volunteers from the community, and they serve at the recommendation of the mayor and confirmation by the Common Council.

Valianti, a lifelong resident of Westminster, was appointed to the city's Board of Zoning Appeals as an alternate member in 1991 and became a full member the next year. Separately, he is chairman of the Carroll County liquor board.

"I'm not angry that I didn't get reappointed," said Valianti, who expressed his concerns in a letter to council members on May 3. "I think I served the city well for the time I was on. I didn't like the remarks [the mayor] made."

But Wiskeman, a county auditor, said he would have liked to have been reappointed to another five-year term on the planning commission.

"I like serving on the commission," Wiskeman said. "I believe I made contributions to the community by being on that."

Dayhoff said that while Wiskeman and Valianti have served more than a decade, he "felt it was a good opportunity to give someone else in the community an opportunity to serve."

The volunteers who replaced Valianti and Wiskeman on their respective boards - Vinnie Legge and Lori Graham - are active members of the Westminster community and have shown leadership and interest in local issues, Dayhoff said.

While other municipalities are struggling to fill volunteer posts on committees and boards, Dayhoff said that "we have more qualified folks who want to serve on boards than we have seats available."

The mayor denied that the change was done in an unprofessional way. He said that instead of telling Valianti and Wiskeman via e-mail or phone of his decision, he met them in person.

"I thought the setting was appropriate," Dayhoff said of the parking lot where they met. "I wanted them comfortable. I felt a responsibility to tell them in person. I'm very proud that they were treated professionally."

The Common Council unanimously approved Dayhoff's appointments last week. Council members, some aware of Valianti's concerns at the time of the vote, said in interviews this week that it would have been awkward to table the confirmation because the group of nominees presented to the council was highly qualified.

"It's the mayor's prerogative, and there was no dispute over the replacements," said Councilman Thomas Ferguson. "It would have been, in my opinion, inappropriate to table the thing."

Added Council President Damian L. Halstad, "We're charged with weighing the applicants' merits and qualifications. The slate was a solid one."

At the same time, they expressed concerns over the apparent handling of the situation with Valianti and Wiskeman.

"The bottom line is it wasn't handled well," Halstad said. "I don't blame Romeo or Larry for being upset. I don't think either of them are too old to serve."

Ferguson agreed.

"It's fine to say, `I'd like to see some turnover in some commissions,'" he said. "There's nothing inherently wrong with that per se, but I think people who are serving in those positions should be given the respect they're entitled to and treated with professionalism."

Councilwoman Suzanne Albert, while declining to criticize the mayor, suggested that "maybe an apology would be helpful."

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