The City of Litchfield Park is seeking an interim City Council member after Councilman Peter Mahoney resigned earlier this month, due to potential conflict of interest regarding the planned City Center downtown development. He had served on City Council since 2001.
Applications can be found on the home page of LitchfieldPark.org or picked up at City Hall, 214 W. Wigwam Blvd. Applications must be turned in to City Hall by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25 to be considered. The remaining six members of City Council will vote to decide who fills the seat, which will come up for election again next fall. The term expires in January 2021.
It has not been determined when a new council member will be selected, but City Manager Bill Stephens said he’s hoping Council will be ready to vote by its Wednesday, Nov. 20 Council meeting.
Mr. Mahoney owns three restaurants on Old Litchfield Road: Old Pueblo Cafe & Pub, Park Cafe and Papa Paul’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta. The restaurants are next to the planned City Center development, which could include restaurants and eateries, among other businesses and land uses, depending on City Council’s final zoning decisions. City Attorney Susan Goodwin notified Mr. Mahoney that she felt this was a conflict of interest.
“Ms. Goodwin felt that my ownership of three restaurants adjacent to the city center property created an actual conflict of interest and at the very least, the perception of one,” Mr. Mahoney wrote in his resignation letter.
Ms. Goodwin did not encourage Mr. Mahoney to resign, he said, but only encouraged him to recuse himself from discussion and votes regarding specific land uses in City Center. However, Mr. Mahoney felt the city should have a full Council to discuss the important topic.
“He felt it was in the best interest of the city to allow someone else to get on Council, who doesn’t have a conflict of interest, who can have this discussion, who can vote,” Mr. Stephens said.
Mr. Mahoney said he didn’t see his position as a restaurant owner as a conflict of interest. He said he consulted with his own lawyer on the matter, who didn’t think it was an issue at this time.
“He said down the road I might when they start getting specific if they did discuss new restaurants,” Mr. Mahoney said in a phone interview. However, Ms. Goodwin disagreed, saying there was a conflict now, and Mr. Mahoney respected her opinion.
“I don’t want to bring any embarrassment or anything to the city if somebody complained and said, hey I’m doing this for my benefit,” Mr. Mahoney said.
Mr. Stephens said Mr. Mahoney wanted to be sure there wasn’t any perception of a conflict of interest.
“I think he felt like it was just better to err on the side of caution,” Mr. Stephens said.
Mr. Mahoney resigned now because more specifics regarding City Center planning are coming before Council soon. Council plans to finalize a zoning district, which includes which types of businesses will and will not be allowed, by the end of the year.
“It was getting closer to more specifics regarding the center. And at that point in time, you know there’s a good chance there will be discussions about restaurant spots and all, and I just felt this was the right time to do it,” Mr. Mahoney said.
Speak as a citizen
Mr. Mahoney also wanted to make his opinions known to City Council on City Center — something he can now do as a private citizen speaking at a public Council meeting but would not have been able to do as a councilman recused from the discussion.
“I want to be able to speak up about some things,” Mr. Mahoney said. “You know, I have some concerns about some things also. And once I declare my conflict, I can’t have any comment.”
Mr. Mahoney said he shared a similar vision for City Center with former City Manager Darryl Crossman, who died in 2017. He felt the city’s plans, while still tentative, are straying from Mr. Crossman’s vision. Mr. Mahoney said one aspect of that vision was using the canal under the property to create “a river walk type of setting.”
Current tentative plans for City Center also include allowing some three-story buildings.
“I personally don’t favor three stories in our community,” Mr. Mahoney said.
In his resignation letter, Mr. Mahoney mentioned not wanting to create a locked 3-3 vote on City Center matters by recusing himself and leaving an even number of council members to vote.
In the meantime, before his replacement is chosen, the possibility of a locked vote looms over a six-person Council. If an agenda item receives a tie vote, it does not pass.
A locked vote is also a possibility when voting on an interim council member. Council members will not vote on every candidate but will decide which candidate to vote on after discussion in a closed-door meeting. If a candidate receives a 3-3 approval vote, council members must decide either to vote on a different candidate or persuade a “no” vote to switch sides and approve the candidate.
No plans for a comeback
Mr. Mahoney does not plan to run again for City Council in the future, even after City Center decisions are made, and his potential conflicts of interest are no longer relevant.
“I’d like to see younger people get involved and give them an opportunity,” Mr. Mahoney said, noting he first ran when he was 39.
Mr. Mahoney will keep busy. He said he works about 80 hours per week between his three restaurants.