Mayor Joanne Yepsen is questioning 20 political appointments made by her Republican predecessor during the last hours of his term, including several made to alternate positions on the city’s land-use boards that were left empty for more than a year.
Yepsen said former Mayor Scott Johnson announced the appointments by memos issued to the commissioners at City Hall at 4:31 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, less than eight hours before she officially took over. Though all of the appointments were to volunteer positions, she said the timing, manner and shear volume gives cause for a legal review of what transpired during the closing hours of the Johnson administration.
“It’s not transparent, and it’s never been done this way — at least not in a long time,” she said. “This was unprecedented as far as I know.”
Yepsen said the appointments included posts on the Heritage Area Program Advisory Board and the Open Space Advisory Committee — an entity that hadn’t convened in roughly three years. Other appointments included alternate positions on the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals created by a City Council resolution in September 2012 but never filled.
“Based on some of the appointments, they are clearly political appointments,” she said.
Yepsen said she had a cordial transition meeting with Johnson prior to the holidays and that he only mentioned appointments she’d have to the city’s Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Recreation Commission. She said Johnson’s administration wasn’t forthcoming with a schedule of appointments and made no mention of the flurry that came several weeks later.
“It was always curious why they wouldn’t share the appointment book with us,” she said. “I couldn’t get clarification from them about which appointments were open and which needed to be filled.”
Yepsen, a Democrat, did not immediately release the memos or the list of appointments in question. She said the city attorney’s office is now reviewing the appointments to determine if they were made properly.
Appointments to such boards and advisory committees are at the pleasure of the mayor, but Yepson said they're ordinarily disclosed at council meetings or by a public announcement.
“This is just not the way we should be doing things,” she said.
Johnson, who led the city for six years before deciding not to run for re-election, could not be reached for comment. Shauna Sutton, his deputy for all three terms, was handily defeated by Yepsen in the mayoral contest last fall.
Meanwhile, Yepsen intends to name several of her own appointments in coming weeks, including members of the planning and zoning boards, as well as chairmen for each. She also intends to review the city’s various advisory boards and committees to determine the role they will play in her administration.
“There will be a whole assessment of these advisory boards and which ones will serve which purpose,” she said.