Even though City Attorney Don Freeman’s introductory remarks at the September 9, 2008 City Council meeting regarding Sue McCloud’s appeal of a Forest and Beach Commission’s unanimous decision to approve the removal of Susan Page’s black acacia tree were characterized by his concern that the City is trying to “ensure for the applicant, the appellant and the general public that we have a clean and open and fair process for everybody involved and we have taken great pains to do that and ensure that nobody has been able to influence the staff or any of the elected or appointed officials,” it is telling that he found it necessary to express these thoughts, as if members of the public had reason to believe the process had been unfairly influenced and/or presented in a partial manner.
Evidence that the City had not been fair and impartial in the process of determining whether to approve or deny Carmelite Susan Page’s application to remove her black acacia tree is substantial. To wit, at every step in the process involving Susan Page’s intention to remove her “dangerous” black acacia tree on her private property, Sue McCloud, Susan Page’s neighbor directly to the east, delayed the process and attempted to influence the outcome, as follows:
• Sue McCloud instigated or condoned, and in any event oversaw, the delay of Susan Page’s application to the Forest and Beach Commission for the removal of her black acacia tree multiple times over many months.
• Sue McCloud instigated or condoned, and in any event oversaw, the delay of her appeal of the Forest and Beach Commission’s unanimous decision approving the removal of Susan Page’s black acacia tree to the City Council for four months.
• Sue McCloud highlighted documents which were subsequently copied and distributed to the public and loaded onto the City’s website as part of the City Council September 9, 2008 Agenda Packet; highlighted documents which were not only addressed to and written by her, but also documents not written or addressed to her, namely a Tree Assessment prepared for Susan Page by certified arborist Frank Ono, Memorandums from City Forester Mike Branson, Susan Page’s Applications For Permit to Remove or Prune Trees and correspondence from Susan Page to the Forest and Beach Commission. Highlighted portions were favorable to Sue McCloud’s position of retaining and pruning the existing black acacia tree.
• At the meeting, and after the Agenda Packet had been prepared for the public and loaded onto the City’s website, a Supplemental Packet from Sue McCloud was entered into the public record and distributed. These documents were also highlighted, including a report from a hired arborist.
Given the aforementioned facts, it is telling that during City Council deliberations on the appeal, City Council Members Gerard Rose (“I didn’t make up my mind until just now”), Ken Talmage (“Well, I haven’t made up my mind”) and Karen Sharp ("I too was so totally undecided”) all expressed sentiments that they had not made up their minds prior to the public hearing, which begs the question, don’t council members always keep an open mind and decide on the merits of each item only after they hear all of the oral testimony and deliberate among themselves?
In the end, the City Council voted 3-1, Council Member Gerard Rose dissenting, to uphold the Forest and Beach Commission’s unanimous decision approving the removal of Susan Page’s black acacia tree. However, the actions of Sue McCloud during this process illustrate her penchant for misusing her position as mayor, a public trust, to promote and pursue her personal interests above the interests of another Carmelite and the general interests of all Carmelites.