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Landmark chairman won’t quit

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday February 27, 2001


A Community Environmental Advisory Commission meeting ended abruptly Thursday, making it the third city commission meeting to collapse in confusion and acrimony under allegations of conflict of interest. 

After a heated public comment period, acting chair of the commission, Gordon Wozniak, refused to recuse himself from an issue related to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where Wozniak is a senior scientist. Frustrated by his refusal, three commissioners walked out of the meeting leaving too few commissioners to legally continue.  

Commissioners Pratap Chatterjee  

and Elmer Grossman were not present at the meeting. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque has issued two opinions that allege Wozniak has a conflict of interest serving on the commission while he is employed at LBNL. 

In her Jan. 2 and Jan 31 opinions  

Albuquerque recommended Wozniak resign from the commission because a large percentage of items the commission considers are related to laboratory environmental issues. 

Wozniak is the second CEAC commissioner said by the city attorney to have a conflict of interest. Former Chair John Selawsky resigned when the city attorney alleged his election to the school board created a conflict of interest with his duties as a commissioner. Selawsky resigned shortly after taking his school board post. 

Wozniak said he has a right to be on the commission and will not resign until forced to do so. “I’ve lived in Berkeley for 34 years and the city attorney is trying to make me a second class citizen by not allowing me to serve my community,” he said. 

Commissioners Jamie Casaba, Pam Webster and LA Wood walked out of the meeting Thursday shortly after Wozniak said he would not recuse himself. This is the second time in three weeks a CEAC meeting has ended without the commission considering any of the items on its agenda.  

“There was tension and anger in the room from the very beginning of the meeting,” said Commissioner Nicholas Morgan. “Things just weren’t going well and then the commissioners left and that was it.” 

Morgan said the commentary from the public was hostile and unproductive. The meeting was attend by 25 members of the public, most associated with the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, which has aggressively opposes LBNL’s use of the radioactive material, tritium. 

“The commentators thought it was more important to say what a scoundrel Gordon Wozniak is rather than to respect the process,” Morgan said. “It was disgraceful, immature and rude.” 

The first CEAC meeting to implode was on Feb. 1. At that meeting Commissioners Jami Caseber, Pam Webster and Susan Chang, who was standing in for Pratap Chatterjee, walked out, which ended the meeting. 

The CEAC is the second commission to be disabled by allegations by the city attorney of conflict of interest. A Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting came to a sudden halt when four commissioners, Becky O’Malley, Lesley Emmington-Jones, Carrie Olson and Doug Morse were asked by the chair of the commission to not discuss or vote on any issues related to the proposed Beth El synagogue at 1301 Oxford St. The four commissioners refused and the meeting was immediately adjourned. 

Albuquerque said conflict of interest issues are nothing new and that newly appointed commissioners are routinely given information about possible conflicts and some chose to disregard it. 

“Conflict of interest laws are necessary for government to conduct its business in a fair manner that’s impartial and accessible,” she said. 

Wozniak, who has retained San Leandro attorney James Harrison, said he will not resign until he is forced to do so. According to Wozniak the city attorney can issue an opinion about his possible conflict of interest but she cannot remove him from the commission. 

According to Wozniak, he can only be removed by the state attorney general and the councilmember who appointed him. “I serve at the pleasure of Councilmember Polly Armstrong and she hasn’t asked me to step down yet,” he said. 

Armstrong couldn’t be reached by the Daily Planet before press time, but has said she plans to stand by her commissioner. 

CMTW member Pam Sihzola said her group agrees with the city attorney. “He should step down as long as he’s employed by the LBNL because as commissioner he will have to make decisions on subjects that are related directly to his employer,” she said. 

Commissioner Chatterjee agrees. “Commissioner Wozniak has done his level best to focus the commission’s attention on insignificant issues like exit signs rather than the huge amounts of tritium stored at LBNL,” he said. 

Wozniak contends that there is tritium all over the city contained in illuminated “EXIT” signs and that no one seems to care unless it’s in the Berkeley Hills. 

Commissioner Webster said she has been frustrated by the commission’s failure to address any of the items on its agenda. 

“I find myself wondering why Commissioner Wozniak won’t at least recuse himself from items related to the LBNL,” she said. “Because as long as he’s there we won’t get to discuss these issues.” 

The next CEAC meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 2118 Milvia St. in the second floor conference room at 7 p.m.