Downtown Superior Life Science Campus: My Perspective6 min read
A recent article in the Daily Camera, “Trustee’s absence allows Superior board to pass controversial development,” lays all the blame on me for the 3-2 decision in favor of a proposed life sciences campus project for Downtown Superior. I understand why many people are angry – and I’m angry too. Not only do I disagree with the outcome of Monday night’s public hearing, but I’m livid about how we got there: a vote skewed by procedural problems, occurring after our 11pm meeting was scheduled to conclude and without all board members present. That vote should never have happened.
On Monday, I was in New York on business preparing for an early Tuesday meeting, and attended the Town Board meeting via Zoom. I was grateful for Superior’s remote attendance policy allowing Board members to call in if traveling for work, as my work travel this week was imperative and I would otherwise have needed to miss our Board meeting entirely. I did everything in my power to ensure that my voice would be heard and my vote would be counted for this important proposal.
Time was wasted early in the meeting discussing far less important issues, such as whether we ought to name our newest park “Parky McParkFace Park.” (When this actually became a topic of discussion on Monday night, I pointed out that it was a waste of time and urged our Board to move on.) During Item 6’s public hearing, I expressed major concerns that the proposal was not a fit for Downtown Superior, and disagreed with colleagues that we needed to focus on tax revenue in approving the development. My opinion was, and still is, that we ought to focus development on activating our downtown, even if that means a longer time horizon to realize the vision for Downtown Superior. After listening to my colleagues, my impression was that one person agreed with me and four disagreed, and I suspected a vote would be 4-2 in favor of the life sciences campus being approved.
With 11pm approaching (which was 1am ET for me in New York), our Board had still not worked through the compromises and conditions that would bring us to a vote. Knowing that at that late hour, no member of the Board was making rested and responsible decisions (in fact, another Board member remarked earlier that he was tired), I voted to conclude the meeting as scheduled. Unfortunately, my recommendation was not respected by the rest of the Board, and I was forced to sign off before the meeting ended, as I had to be fresh and alert to lead workshops starting in just a few hours East Coast time. Not performing at my best at that hour, I made a significant error and didn’t formally announce my departure – and I couldn’t be any more sorry for that lapse in judgment.
In hindsight, it’s easy to wish I had remained on for the additional 15 minutes the meeting ran – but I had no way to predict we were close to a vote. At 11pm when I signed off, there were several outstanding objections raised by the Planning Commission that we had not even begun to cover, and I assumed that the Board would want to address those issues rather than push for an immediate vote. My previous experience has been that an initial short extension often becomes multiple extensions, and we have gone well beyond 1am in the past. Regrettably, my body was unable to accommodate that on Monday evening.
As I have stressed repeatedly, it doesn’t make sense to extend Board meetings late into the night – after a full day of work and five hours of the Board meeting, our concentration and reasoning abilities are weak. It’s also clear that extending our meetings encourages us to waste a lot of time in the beginning that could be spent on much more important issues. Prior to each meeting, the Board is well aware of the lengthy docket, and we have the opportunity to reprioritize the agenda and potentially prevent situations like Monday night from occurring. For a time, we followed my suggestion to shift the less-important reports section of the agenda from the beginning to the end of the meeting; unsurprisingly, moving our reports to the end of the night resulted in much less discussion around them. However, that swap was walked back, as Board members believed reports were too important to leave to the end of the night. Shouldn’t we place the same importance on major development applications?
After hearing consistent feedback from other Board members and potential Board candidates, it’s my firm belief that these marathon meetings are deterring more diverse members of our community from stepping up. Our Board purports to champion diversity, but I am currently the only woman on the Board. In fact, every other woman on the Board since November 2020 has resigned rather than completing a full term, while no men have resigned in this time. Stricter adherence to time limits and better prioritization of topics would ensure comprehensive consideration of important issues facing Superior, and could make serving on the Board more accessible for workers of all backgrounds.
Several residents have pointed out to me privately and in public comment that the Board is quick to shut down my remarks, and I’ve been frustrated by the opposition I’ve faced in asking that meetings conclude at 11pm as scheduled. It should be noted that we recently changed the meeting extension policy from a unanimous vote to a majority vote – and when I voiced concerns with this policy change, I was told that if a Board member wasn’t feeling clear-headed to continue making important decisions, either the rest of the Board would support their colleague in not extending the meeting, or that person could simply leave – as I did on Monday.
Given the anger that has been directed at me the last few days, I feel compelled to point out that I am just one vote of six: while my vote could have changed the outcome, so too could any of the three votes in favor of this proposal. It’s very frustrating that I’ve become the scapegoat for a decision that I vehemently disagree with and tried to persuade my colleagues against. It is extremely disingenuous, unprofessional and upsetting that a fellow Board member who voted yes is publicly blaming me for the approval and demanding my censure. And it’s even more upsetting that the whole community is now paying for our Board’s inability to support each other in making rational, clear-headed decisions at a reasonable hour.
With all of that said, I want to apologize deeply to the community for signing off without sufficiently announcing my departure. After a 17-hour work day, I wasn’t thinking clearly, and that exhaustion led to a communication mistake on my part. (Perhaps my colleagues were equally tired, as it was some time before a Board member paid attention to the Zoom meeting to notice I had left.) I also want to apologize for the manner in which the Board you elected chose to handle the situation at such a late hour. I accept full responsibility for my part in this unfortunate outcome; I vow to personally do better, and will continue to strive for more equitable and judicious processes to represent our community going forward.