After months of discord and accusations of political maneuvering, the Petaluma City Council's recent vote to merge two planning boards into one — removing all but three of the 12 sitting members — appeared to put an end to the controversy.
But on Monday, three planning commissioners fighting their ouster from the volunteer jobs notified the city they are not done yet. In response, city officials called a special meeting — set for 5 p.m. today — to take another vote on it all.
Meanwhile, the "reconstituted" planning commission is set to meet tonight for the first time.
A letter faxed Monday evening to City Hall on behalf of Spence Burton, Kathleen Miller and Jack Rittenhouse III said the group will challenge the council's actions on several grounds.
One of those includes the way the Nov. 2 council meeting was interrupted by a former city councilman who wanted to speak about budget cuts after the public comment segment was over, Burton said.
As Mayor Pam Torliatt banged the gavel to quiet former councilman Bryant Moynihan, she "adjourned" the meeting and she and several council members left the dais. City staff members began packing up their belongings and after a few minutes, most of the perplexed audience left City Hall.
After Moynihan left, Torliatt returned to her seat and reconvened the meeting. The council finished its budget discussion and at nearly 11 p.m., made its controversial reappointments to the "reconstituted" planning commission.
At the time, City Attorney Eric Danly "confirmed" with Torliatt that she had actually "recessed" the meeting, not "adjourned" it.
Danly said Monday that the mayor simply used the wrong word and only halted the meeting to regain decorum.
Burton said the difference may mean any actions the council took after the "adjournment" are invalid. The state's open meetings law may have been violated because the public wasn't properly notified of the items taken up after the council returned.
"It would kill two things," he said, "All of the budget recommendations to the city manager and the planning commission appointments. All of that has to be voided."
City Manager John Brown, upon receiving the faxed letter, polled council members about whether to hold another meeting to address the issue, Mayor Pam Torliatt said.
"In an abundance of caution, he just wanted to ensure that we didn't have any issues for the new planning commission to deal with," she said. "We want to make sure we have a real clear process."
She said that the concern is that any actions taken by the "new" planning commission — which meets two hours later — be legitimate and lawful.
Councilman Mike Healy — who opposed the original decision to remove the sitting commissioners —called the developments "a comedy of errors."
He said, "Now they're going to re-fire them a third time, and hope it sticks this time."
Burton said the challenge is less to regain his seat on the planning commission as to "point more to the incompetence" of the council majority.
The trio's attorney, James Sansone, said his clients don't dispute the council can legislate what it wants, they just want the council to follow the rules.
"It's that you, the city, put specific rules in place, and you didn't follow your own rules," he said. "The city had to pay counsel to redraft the municipal code. So I believe the real losers are the taxpayers who have to pay for these mistakes."