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At least one member of the Estero Design Review Board has threatened to resign if the village passes an ordinance that targets conflicts of interest on Estero’s appointed boards.

Design Review Board member William Prysi said he would step down. He and other board members criticized parts of the draft ordinance during the board meeting Wednesday evening.

If passed, the new rules would decrease the quality of the professionals represented on the board and eliminate opportunities for board members to earn money if a project connected to their company were to come to Estero, the board said.

Estero's Village Council is expected to hold a final vote on the proposed ethics rules Wednesday.

“I’ll say for the record if this passes as is, my resignation will be effective the moment the vote is cast,” Prysi said.

More: Estero might tighten ethics rules for appointed boards, considers medical marijuana ban

More: Estero official: Don't let Design Review Board members lobby for clients

The draft ordinance, which was approved for a second reading by the village council last week, includes explicit references to state ethics laws already in place and would ban members of the Design Review Board and the Planning and Zoning Board from advocating for projects in public before the village.

The proposed ordinance also prohibits members who have voting conflicts from speaking or "nonverbally" participating in any discussion on projects they are connected working on.

Board members took issue with the ethics and conflicts of interest section of the ordinance that prevents them from testifying in front of their board on behalf of an applicant.

“That takes any active working person out of the equation because nobody in their right mind is going to get up here and give up their time and expertise and anything you surrender to provide something for the community and say, "Now I have to give up my ability to make a living,'” Prysi said. “Nobody is going to do that.”

Prysi said that the Design Review Board already does most of what is listed in the ordinance, including leaving the room when asked by Estero land use attorney Nancy Stroud. That goes above what is spelled out in the ordinance, Prysi said.

“Nancy has asked us if we have conflicts when there is a public hearing to leave the room, and we do do that,” Prysi said.

The draft ordinance changes required qualifications for the Design Review Board, which could broaden the potential pool of applicants to the board.

According to the draft ordinance, at least three members of the board must be either a state-registered architect, state-registered engineer or state-registered landscape architect. That eliminates language requiring a specific seat for each of those state-registered positions.

“I think that really decreases the diversity of representation and the quality of representation on the board,” said board member Barry Jones. “You could have five landscape architects and not have an architect on the board.”

Estero Community Development Director Mary Gibbs told board members that there is a negative perception in the community about the conduct of the Design Review Board at their meetings.

“We’ve gotten complaints from the public. I’ve heard it.” Gibbs said. “Because you’ve been working together so long, there’s a little bit of chumminess and the public is squeezed out of the process. The people in the public really don’t know what’s going on.”

Board members expressed frustration.

“I’m sorry if the public doesn’t think we’re up here doing the best for the community,” said Chairman Joe McHarris.

The board has 50 years of collective experience, said Prysi.

"That’s a heck of a commitment. If somebody has a perception (that) commitment is untrustworthy,  I would really challenge somebody to point that out,” Prysi said. “It’s an ill perception. It’s not based in reality.”

Prysi said the board should do a better job of maintaining professionalism during its meetings, and he had previously made comments that may not have followed those standards.

“There was a moment where Joe (McHarris) was out there. and I made a jovial quip where I said, 'I’m easier on you,' or something like that. It was a joke between people who know each other pretty well,” Prysi said. “I’d say that’s the kind of professional breach in decorum that we should never do as a board. I can say that I would never do that again.”

Gibbs told the board that she would take their comments and suggestions to the village council at next Wednesday’s meeting.

The Planning and Zoning Board also is expected to make a recommendation to the Village Council about the draft ethics ordinance at its meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, members of the Design Review Board remain at odds with the Village Council on the proposed ethics rules.

“I don’t need to be here. I don’t think any of us need to be here,” said board member Jones. “I’m here because I think it’s important to communicate some engineering principles and put it in a layman’s language and give it back to the audience to try and help them to understand why we make the decisions that we do. That’s the reason that I volunteered for this board, to try and help facilitate communication with the community.”

Upcoming Village of Estero Meetings

Estero Planning and Zoning Board Meeting

WHEN: 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14

WHERE: Village Hall, 9401 Corkscrew Palms Circle, Estero

DETAILS: estero-fl.gov

Estero Village Council Meeting 

WHEN: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15

WHERE: Village Hall, 9401 Corkscrew Palms Circle

DETAILS: estero-fl.gov

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