Business / Economy

Hearing to remove San Juan Bautista Planning Commission chairman Hopper tabled— for now

A hearing to remove San Juan Bautista Planning Commission chair John Hopper was again delayed.

A hearing to remove chairman John Hopper from the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission for cause was once again put off Tuesday, February 20, by the San Juan Bautista City Council.

The vote was 3-2 to table the matter. That means it will only come back before the council if a council member brings it up again.

Council member John Freeman made the motion to table the action to remove Hopper. Freeman voted yes along with Mayor Jim West and council member Dan DeVries. Members Tony Boch and John Martorana voted against the motion.

Martorana indicated he would bring the matter back to the council agenda.

Hopper sent an emailed letter to the City Council dated Feb. 17, saying he could not be present for the meeting because he was out of the country. In the letter he apologizes for “any conduct that may have been felt by some of the members of the council and perhaps some members of the community to be inappropriate.”

Hopper’s letter states that if the council decides to go forward with removing him, he should be present to respond to accusations against him and clear his name.

“I am, however, hopeful that you will accept my apology with the sincerity with which it is meant, and that we may move past this and all continue to focus on serving the public.”

Attached to the letter was a list which, he said, demonstrates his long-term commitment to the city, where he has lived for 30 years.

During the discussion on the matter, which at times became a little heated, Freeman said, “I just want it to go away.”

Last month, Hopper, who did not attend the January council meeting either, requested a continuance to the February meeting so that he could have a chance to defend himself.

Martorana wondered why the council was a waiting to delay the issue. “This goes back to October,” he said.

DeVries suggested the issue be continued one more time and taken up again in March.

The causes leading to the hearing to remove Hopper from the planning commission are stated as:

“Acting in excess of his authority as a Planning Commissioner.”

“Failing to comport himself in public in a manner which is deemed appropriate by the current City Council. This includes but is not limited to his appearance at an October 24, 2017 City Council meeting, where he appeared to be intoxicated.”

In texts from Hopper published on the city’s website last month Hopper said a health issue may have made him appear to be intoxicated. His texts also said he believed he was being targeted because of his anti-growth philosophy.

Freeman said the city has received letters from San Juan Bautista residents supporting Hopper. Resident Ramon Lopez said Tuesday night, “I think you should resolve this and move on. John Hopper is a good man.”

Two other matters related to the Hopper issue were discussed: a subcommittee report on a code of conduct for City Council members and board and committee members and consideration of an ordinance changing the selection process for planning commissioners.

Presently, planning commissioners are selected by individual council members and then approved or rejected by the full council. San Juan Bautista City Council members are elected at large, rather than by district.

Freeman suggested that each council member interview the candidates before voting on them. He said the city needs to spend more money on planning commissioners for professional development.

West said every crisis the city has faced in the last three years has been because of the planning commission’s action or inaction. He suggested the council sit as both the planning commission and the council, but later rejected the suggestion.

Martorana said the current process is inconsistent. “I do fear if you go to an interview process, that could take a tremendous amount of time.” He said there hasn’t been much interaction between the council and the planning commission and that needs to improve. “I don’t think we’re providing very good direction to the planning commission."

Boch said it has been difficult to find people willing to serve on the planning commission. But Freeman said that with new residents moving into new housing developments, the pool for candidates will grow.

Planning Commissioner David Medeiros said commissioners need to be trained. “We need to work together … and set criteria for planning commission appointments,” he said.

After discussion, the council voted unanimously to have city staff create an ordinance for selecting commissioners based on Boch’s suggestion. Boch said the council should follow the same process but that candidates should be interviewed by the entire council and that they be appointed to four-year terms.

Freeman and Martorana make up the adhoc committee on drafting a code of conduct for city officials. Freeman said they have looked at codes of conduct in other cities.

“I think we’re close to a draft,” he said, and that it will probably be presented at the March council meeting.

Martorana said that once a code is approved the city must be proactive on it. That, he said, should include a review of it annually and that everyone affected re-sign it.

Freeman said the code aims for higher ethical standards for city officials. “It’s not a free ride,” he said.

Resident Mandis Snodey said, “Creating a code of ethics is long overdue.”

Resident Jackie Morris said a code of ethics would, “tighten up the ship a little bit and be more professional.”

West said he was for a code of conduct but would not wear a tie.

Thomas Leyde