New chairman clashes with Crestwood panel member, citizen

Sweeney gavels citizen out of order; asks Gillam to get Police Department

Steve Nieder

Steve Nieder

By Mike Anthony

The newly elected chairman of the Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission recently clashed with a member of the panel and a resident.

Robert Sweeney, who was elected Planning and Zoning Commission chairman April 1, bristled when commission member Steve Nieder, a former Ward 4 alderman, and resident Robert Miller questioned whether Sweeney has a conflict of interest serving on the panel. Sweeney, an attorney, serves as city attorney for three municipalities.

Nieder said to Sweeney, “… Looking at your application, you checked off that there is possible conflicts of interest.”

Sweeney said, “Yes.”

Nieder said, “Yes, and those conflicts of interest are caused by what? Could it be that you’re …”

Sweeney interjected, “By my job.”

Nieder said, “Yes, that you’re actually an official of another city — working for another city.”

Sweeney said, “I am the city attorney for three cities, and I am the counsel for a number of public bodies, but those are not the conflicts. It is possible that each of us could have a conflict because applicants that appear before a planning and zoning board could have a relationship with any member of the board. So I would say that anyone who doesn’t check the possibility of a conflict of interest is probably not being accurate.”

“I would beg to disagree with you on that. I think working for other cities is more of a conflict than anything else could possibly be …,” Nieder said, questioning whether Crestwood would be Sweeney’s “first interest” if he was “working for someone else, some other city.”

Sweeney said, “I suppose I’m confused by that comment in that I suppose we all have jobs and loyalties. I also happen to be Catholic. I don’t think that that causes a conflict of interest.”

Nieder interjected, “We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what you’re being paid for — I mean working for another city. Everybody that comes here could have a possibility of wanting to do business in another city, or you could defray them from doing business in our city ’cause you might possibly want them to do business in another city …”

Sweeney said, “… I will tell you that is so far from my thought process that I didn’t even think of that. It would be a breach of my fiduciary obligation if I did that, and if I felt that I had a conflict with some other applicant, I would recuse myself as I would expect everyone to do.

“And actually, I think I take offense at the notion that I’m somehow going to steer business from one place to another away from Crestwood. Honestly, Mr. Nieder, I don’t — I guess my mind doesn’t work that way …”

Director of Public Services Jim Gillam said, “… Mr. Nieder’s comment is duly noted, and if you would please move forward.”

Miller said, “… I kind of confer and concur with this interest thing here. All we have to do — read the newspapers. Look at these court systems up in municipalities — all these court systems … I see a conflict of interest here also …”

Sweeney noted that panel members are unpaid volunteers.

Nieder and Sweeney later clashed after Sweeney gaveled Miller out of order as Miller attempted to speak during a public hearing on a request by Akram Naser, owner of the BP Filling Station & Convenience Market at 9666 Watson Road, for a conditional-use permit, or CUP, to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The panel later recommended approval of the CUP.

Miller, a frequent speaker at Board of Aldermen meetings, stated he had performed “an analytic study using IBM software” of the number of gas stations and convenience stories near the BP and found there were 13. He began enumerating those stations and convenience stores.

Sweeney said, “… Mr. Miller, Mr. Miller, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but …”

Miller replied, “You are interrupting me.”

Sweeney said, “Well, then I do mean to interrupt you.”

Miller said, “Do you have any rules for one minute or two minutes or three minutes?”

Sweeney and Miller then talked at the same time, with Miller finally saying, “… I just don’t like interruptions. I’m a taxpayer …”

“And so am I, Mr. Miller, and so are all the folks here,” Sweeney said. “And so we all have equal standing with you, and we are here, Mr. Miller, on this applicant’s request for 24-hour service. His use has already been approved. You’re a day late and a dollar short to complain about that. So if you have any comments about his request for 24-hour service, please have them. Otherwise, I will rule you out …”

Miller said, “I’m very much against 24-hour …”

Before Miller could finish, Sweeney began pounding his gavel and Nieder said, “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Back up. This is a taxpayer that’s talking to you, my friend.”

Sweeney said, “I’m a taxpayer, too, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “This is a citizen …”

Sweeney interjected, “This is a citizen who is out of order.”

Nieder said, “Back off of him.”

Sweeney said, “You back off.”

Nieder said, “No, I will not. He has a right …”

Sweeney interjected, “You back off.”

Nieder continued, “He has a right to say what he wants to say. Ease up on him.”

Sweeney then asked Gillam “to please get the Police Department because I’m going to have Mr. Nieder …”

Nieder said, “Well, go ahead and get the Police Department because this man has a right to say what he wants to say.”

Sweeney said, “… He has a right to speak on the topic that we’re here for. I’m correcting him on the topic that we’re here (for) …”

Nieder interjected, “… But there’s no reason to throw a hammer on him or anything else like that. My goodness, he’s not hollering at you or anything of that sort.”

Sweeney said, “He was hollering, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “He is not hollering.”

Sweeney said, “Mr. Nieder, you’re out of order.”

Miller said, “Can I continue, please?”

Sweeney said, “No.”

“I’m against the 24 hours …,” Miller said, as Sweeney banged his gavel once.

“All right, if you want to speak about the 24 hours, Mr. Miller, then please do …,” Sweeney said.

Miller said, “… I’m very much against 24 hours … It’s going to bring in trash. I’ve been here for 40 years. It’s going to bring in trash …”