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Cary trustees criticize village president for demotion of zoning board chairman

CARY – Several trustees criticized Village President Mark Kownick at Tuesday’s Village Board meeting for his handling of zoning board appointments after his demotion of the zoning board’s former chairman.

Kownick said he informed former Board of Zoning, Planning and Appeals Chairman Joe Tournier on Feb. 25 he would be demoted to a regular board position based on his feeling the board was becoming too political and losing a sense of decorum. Tournier resigned after the demotion.

Trustees Kim Covelli and Jim Cosler criticized Kownick for not informing trustees about the change until the night it happened, with Covelli saying she was “completely in the dark” and Cosler saying he was “blindsided.”

“A little while ago you asked me about how to bring this board together, how to make this board less divisive, and I told you it’s including the trustees in some of this decision-making,” Covelli said.

The zoning board has recently been at the center of controversial development proposals, including the Pedcor affordable housing complex and a proposed senior housing complex that the Village Board sent back to the zoning board.

Kownick said he had conversations with trustees in December about potential changes and reviewed video of board meetings.

“I was very concerned about some of the comments made to petitioners as well as the overall tone of the conversation,” Kownick said.

He said he met with Tournier on Jan. 22 to discuss his concerns in detail and tell him he would be paying attention. After more contemplation, he decided to demote Tournier and extend the chairmanship to Patrick Khoury, who accepted it Feb. 22.

He said he called each trustee the evening of Feb. 25 to tell them he was removing Tournier from his position, leaving voicemails for those who did not answer.

He told Tournier later that night.

“This is something I thought long and hard about,” Kownick said. “At times, I’m faced with making some difficult decisions, and it’s within my responsibilities of state statutes that allow me to make changes within the zoning board where I don’t have to get the advice and consent of the Village Board.”

In a statement, Tournier said he resigned after a few days of reflection following the conversation.

“I have enjoyed many years of service for the village and though the mayor and I don’t see eye to eye on this issue, I wish Mr. Khoury the best in his new role,” Tournier said.

Kownick said he would discuss the issue further during executive session when pressed by Cosler.

“A voicemail is not enough notice on this important issue,” Cosler said. “You have a chairman who, in my view, really looked at both sides of the issues and let everybody speak during a meeting and have their voice heard, and he’s getting ousted. That’s really concerning to me, and you did that without even discussing the idea with any of the board.”

Trustee Rick Dudek said he understood Kownick’s decision, but would prefer he ask someone else to sit in on meetings.

“There’s no way to mediate it because it’s one person’s word against each other, and that’s the worst thing we could possibly have,” Dudek said.

The village opened applications for the zoning board last month, and Village Administrator Chris Clark said the process to fill the vacant seat would be accelerated.

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