Mayor Ernie Bunch

Mayor Ernie Bunch wants further consequeces for Cave Creek Town Council vice chairman Paul Eelkema’s actions.

Cave Creek Town Council voted to allow Paul Eelkema, vice chairman of the planning commission, to stay on the board after he breached the proper chain of communication in a 5-2 decision at the Oct. 4 meeting.

Eelkema sent a letter to Councilman Bob Morris and Councilwoman Kathryn Royer with questions regarding the proposed — and strongly opposed — Hidden Canyon subdivision. This occurred before the planning commission had voted whether or not to allow certain exceptions to the subdivision ordinance to be made in a meeting on Sept. 16.

“Is it inappropriate for a commission member to be, from my point of view, lobbying the council members in advance of a commission meeting, relative to what’s going to be discussed at the commission?” asked Vice Mayor David Smith.

The commission approved the exceptions for the property at the Sept. 26 meeting, which means the site plan would go forward to be presented by and voted on by the town council. While he only asked questions in the letter sent out, Smith said it was still an act to lobby council members and was “absolutely and totally inappropriate.”

Eelkema has since recused himself from the planning commission to try to right his wrongdoing. However, by skipping the chain of communication and potentially violating the applicant’s constitutional rights of due process, he was subject to be removed from the planning commission. Town Attorney Bill Sims explained the issue further.

“Even Mr. Eelkema agrees, by the fact that he recused himself, that there may have been some inappropriate conduct,” Sims said. “The way this is supposed to work is when there’s a matter coming before a governing body, you have to keep an open mind so that the applicant and the neighbors understand that you haven’t made a determination without looking at all the facts.”

Sims agreed Eelkema made a mistake but said he has taken positive steps to correct it. Sims’ recommendation as the town attorney was that Eelkema’s recusal was a satisfactory solution. Some council members agreed that it was an honest mistake that was made with good intentions. Others, however, said it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened and called for more serious consequences.

“It’s not a fine line, it’s a wide chasm between activism and service, and I’ve got a problem with this,” Mayor Ernie Bunch said.

The letter’s recipient, Royer said she was recusing herself from further discussions about the Hidden Canyon plans in order for the council to remain unbiased. Royer added that she did not take this lightly, but ultimately decided Eelkema’s position on the planning commission was more important for the town than her vote.

The ultimate deciding factor for many of the council members was the humble admission of fault and acceptance of responsibility from Eelkema. Councilman Thomas McGuire pointed out this act of contrition was not seen in similar situations in the past.

“I’m standing here tonight embarrassed,” he said. “I want to acknowledge that I jumped an important step in the line of communication we use to get things done in this town. I think you all recognize that I don’t view this appointment with an attitude that is cavalier. I take this seriously… So, here’s my promise to you. I will honor our communication protocols. I will continue to ask hard questions appropriately. I will work for positive results. I do very much want to continue as a planning commissioner.”

Ultimately, the council voted 5-2 to take no action and keep Eelkema on the board unless there is another issue in the future. Mayor Ernie Bunch and Councilman Ron Sova were the only two votes against the motion.