By Gerhard Schneibel
Sandy Springs Planning Commission member Bob Wiley was publicly admonished Oct. 8 by the city’s Ethics Board, which found he had engaged in “even a lawful act giving the appearance of impropriety and lessening the public confidence.”
The board made its decision after three hours of testimony and debate.
Wiley’s term ends in February, and he said he won’t seek reappointment. “I felt like the mayor and city attorney were harassing me.”
City Attorney Wendell Willard filed a complaint July 20, alleging that Wiley’s participation in a June 2 Planning Commission discussion and vote on the definition of average grade plane was a conflict of interest.
Wiley, a licensed professional engineer, filed an affidavit May 2 in a lawsuit against the city and Turner Home Builders. He said a house being built in the 800 block of North Island Drive was above the allowable average grade plane.
“I felt because of his personal involvement — he also is a neighbor living next door to that subject property — that he should recuse himself from the vote,” Willard said.
Wiley argues that the case on North Island Drive couldn’t be affected by a new average grade plane definition when he cast his vote, that he did not file the affidavit as an expert witness, and that decisions about average grade plane are made by the Design Review Board, not the Planning Commission.
“The ordinance that we were looking at is the ordinance which will take place in the future,” he said. “I made the visual inspection (of the construction site on North Island Drive) from the property line because there are ‘no trespassing’ signs up. If an expert can make a visual inspection from a property line and come up with an answer, that’s kind of absurd.”
Willard argued that Wiley’s affidavit was an expert opinion that could affect the outcome of the lawsuit, that Wiley was subject to a conflict of loyalties because his affidavit was a legally binding contract and that Wiley “tainted his ability to act impartially.”
“It’s just not looking good to have somebody who serves on a commission party as an expert witness to litigation against the city,” Willard said.
Planning Commission member Suzan Maziar testified on Wiley’s behalf. She said the commission had worked on an improved definition of average grade plane for five months and that the July 2 meeting was called after the affidavit conflict arose.
“The week before, (Planning Commission Chairman) Lee Duncan called each of us at home — he’d never done that before — to say Bob wouldn’t be voting. I thought he was a little out of line,” Maziar said.
When the commission met, the definition it had been revising for five months had been replaced with the state’s standard definition, Maziar said. She said Duncan told her the original document “is no longer in our packet; it’s not to be discussed.”
Wiley served on the subcommittee assigned to revise the average grade plane definition.
“I was really mad after that meeting because I was caught off-guard and I was confused. Later, I was angry about it,” Maziar said. “We really thought we were doing something great for Sandy Springs by clarifying the definition. I don’t like seeing us go after one of our own. It’s destructive, demeaning and humiliating.”