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Erie Board of Trustees Remove Planning Commission Chair and Vice Chair

Erie Board of Trustees Remove Planning Commission Chair and Vice Chair


Demonstrating a lack of progress and a hostile work environment, Commissioner Zuniga and Vice Chair Luthi were removed in a 4 – 2 vote after a long and at times heated discussion.

Planning Commission Chair Kelly Zuniga and Vice Chair Luthi were removed from their positions by a 4 -2 vote during the June 27th, 2023 Erie Board of Trustees meeting. The agenda item was put forth by Sara Loflin, Mayor Pro Tem and cited reasons of the Planning Commission creating a culture of hostility, lack of communication, the removal of the DEI Advisory Board and affordable housing efforts from the Comprehensive Plan, failure to fullfill the job required, and stepping outside of the Planning Commission’s authority.

Zuniga’s actions were previously addressed by the town administrator, the mayor, and the majority of town trustees for her lack of communication, fostering a hostile work environment, and failing to advance the Comprehensive Town update in a timely manner.

Zuniga’s behavior had previously been discussed by the Board of Trustees at an April 25th meeting addressing these same issues. At that time Mayor Pro Tem Loflin raised the issue in a letter ahead of the Board of Trustee meeting. At that meeting the Board voted to approve 5 -2 to more clearly define the roles of the Planning Commission giving Zuniga and Luthi ample time to remedy the concerns.

During Tuesday night’s  meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Loflin stated that Zuniga displayed a “concerning pattern,”that Zuniga “created costly delays” by refusing to meet with the Mayor or Board of Trustees, created an environment where staff were leaving, and not pursuing DEI and affordable housing efforts. Zuniga has been critical of DEI and affordable housing issues in relation to the Comprehensive Town Plan.

Neither Zuniga nor Luthi were present at the meeting tonight despite being notified last Friday.

News of the possible removal was first reported by BizWest media.

Trustee Sawusch attempted to move the vote to a date in the future. He claimed that Zuniga and Luthi were not given proper notification or time to respond. Loflin clarified that Zuniga and Luthi were notified of this hearing on Friday the 23rd.

“Time was provided and the instructions were clear and it sounds like they chose not to respond. So I’m fine with moving forward,” Trustee Baer stated.

Trustee Harrison emphasized “I don’t know how giving more time for this would accomplish anything given the refusal, frankly, to respond. And the refusal to even acknowledge that they would be here or not ahead of the meeting.” Loflin expanded “this has been going on since at least September of last year if not prior.

Trustees voted 4-2 to keep the agenda as it is and proceed with the discussion and vote.

Loflin laid out multiple specific examples for the removal of Zuniga. 

  • On the April 5th meeting Zuniga asserted that the Planning Commission have authority over town staff in other departments
  • Initiated procedures to expel DEI, and affordable housing from the Comprehensive Plan
  • Town administrator Malcolm Fleming stated that there was open hostility from Zuniga
  • Multiple planning staff have expressed that they experienced hostility from Zuniga
  • There is a trend of staff leaving due to a hostile environment fostered by Zuniga
  • Planning Commission members sent anonymous complaints regarding Zuniga
  • Zuniga refused to attend meetings delaying processes
  • Creating unsanctioned social media videos regarding policies on behalf of town, opening the town to liability
  • Refused to meet with the Mayor without an attorney present

Trustee Sawusch attempted to dispute points Loflin had made. He lingered on the fact that Zuniga’s absence was not the only absence causing a lack of quorum. Loflin countered with the fact that she laid out several points, of which this was just one laying out a pattern of Zuniga’s behavior.

The town attorney stepped in stating “This is sounding a lot like an interrogation not a deliberation,” regarding Sawusch’s line of questioning.

“If it sounds like an interrogation it is.” Sawusch retorted.

Loflin emphasized that “Among the reasons they [town staff] left was the environment created by the planning commission… They did not name the Board [of Trustees] as the underlying reasons for departure.”

Trustee Harrison referred to his experience as the ViceChair of the Planning Commission. “Under my four and a half years we never had this problem.” He expanded on the lack of communication from Zuniga and Luthi, “If I’m asked for a response, I’d be responding, because I’m an adult.”

Baer reiterated Loflin’s points and expressed her remorse that these actions had to be taken and cited Zuniga’s “cold indifference was very concerning.” Baer also stated she witnessed abusive behavior from Zuniga and Luthi and that trust was violated by removing the DEI commission, sending a clear message to the community that DEI and affordable housing were not priorities for updating the Comprehensive Plan.

Trustee Hoback shared, “this has been building and reached an inflection point in early April. This very action [removing Zuniga] was on the table at that time. As a board we all decided the Mayor should reach out to Chair Zuniga and despite multiple accommodations, she refused to meet without legal representation. Refusing to meet at Town Hall.”

Regarding the Comprehensive Plan, a visibly upset Trustee Bell stated, “Yes affordable housing is part of it… but we have to do what’s right for us.” Bell accused the Board of making the removals of the Chair and Vice Chair a political statement. He continued, “Be careful what you wish for there are often unintended consequences when you single out people for political disagreements.” 

“It’s about doing the work, and they’re not doing the work,” Harrison emphasized the reasons why Zuniga was removed.

Loflin spoke to the toxic environment, “The concern for me is that when staff receives direction from the town administrator, and staff communicates that to the Planning Commission, the Planning Commission response has been to become both hostile and abusive of staff.”

Sawusch moved to cut off discussion over Luthi’s removal but was overruled 4 -2. Similar reasons for removing Zuniga were given for Luthie as well, citing a lack of willingness to include DEI in the comprehensive plan, creating a toxic environment, lack of communication, and posting a letter from Planning Commissioner Zuniga to NextDoor violating social media protocols.

“The vacancies we’ve seen, losing top notch talent, we are just hemorrhaging talent, and [they are] citing the toxicity of the Planning Commission,” Baer stated.

View the Erie Board of Trustees Meeting from June 27th, 2023 here:



Austin Clinkenbeard
Austin Clinkenbeard has been traveling the world with his wife for the past several years exploring food, history and culture along the way. He is a passionate advocate for stronger social science education and informed global travel. Austin holds degrees in Anthropology and Political Science from San Diego State. When he’s home there’s a good chance you can catch him cooking allergy friendly food. You can follow along Austin’s travel adventures and food allergy journey at www.NowWeExplore.com.

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