Khalil steps down from PCPB amid allegation, board discord
by Tony De Garate
Published - 08/24/11 - 02:39 PM | 9938 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like most civic leaders, Suhail Khalil was eager to establish his imprint when fellow members of the Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB) chose him to be their chairman in April.

He said his mission would be to do all he could to build the board’s reputation as a productive, credible organization. He vowed to begin and end every meeting on time. He sought to strengthen the board’s subcommittee system, requiring those chairs to develop mission statements and objectives and encouraging community members to vet their ideas there. He wanted to increase traffic to the board’s website and supported expanding its use for posting documents and links to board-related business.

But on Aug. 18, slightly more than two hours into the board’s monthly meeting, allegations were leveled that Khalil had improperly distributed communication from board subcommittees to city employees and representatives from Naval Station Point Loma without approval from the full board.

Moments later, Treasurer Nancy Graham moved to form an ad hoc committee to investigate Khalil, which the board approved by a vote of 9-3-1.

With seven months remaining on his one-year term, Khalil abruptly said, “Let me make this easy for you. I’m resigning.” With that, he packed up his computer, left the podium and headed for the parking lot of the Hervey/Point Loma Branch Library, leaving a room full of fellow board members and community members looking stunned.

There are, of course, two sides to every story.

Khalil had served for more than five years on the board, which is sanctioned by the city to provide citizen input on development projects, public facilities and land use-related issues.

Following Khalil's departure, the board managed to regroup and complete the remaining items on the agenda, led by First Vice Chairwoman Helen Kinnaird. Khalil's resignation will likely appear on next month's agenda, and the board's bylaws allow 120 days to fill a vacancy, according to PCPB Secretary John Gott.

“I think this is an improvement for the board,” said fellow board member Geoff Page, Khalil’s most persistent public critic, who was contacted after the meeting.

Page charged that Khalil had gone rogue when he met June 16 with staff from City Planning and Community Investment (CPCI), the city’s arm that advises community planning groups, to review proposed changes to the PCPB bylaws. When the full board met that same day, Page alleges, Khalil didn’t mention the meeting.

According to Page, Khalil committed two violations: he met with city staff without the board’s approval and he shared the proposed bylaws changes before the board had approved them.

“Since it wasn’t approved by the board, the city wasted its time looking at it,” Page said.

Some of the proposed changes were ultimately rejected by the board, which “made us look stupid” for having the city review them in the first place, Page said.

But Khalil maintains he met with CPCI to ensure that an ad hoc committee he created when he took office to revise the bylaws was on the right track. He pointed out he posted CPCI’s response on the board’s website and even emailed board members to notify them of that posting.

Khalil defended sharing a letter drafted by the PCPB’s Environment and Water Subcommittee with Naval Base Point Loma on the same grounds. The letter expressed concerns about the condition of an aging pipeline that brings fuel from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to the base.

“There’s nothing in the bylaws that constrain chairs (of planning groups) from meeting with other agencies. On the contrary, it encourages it,” Khalil said, when contacted after the meeting. I wanted to fulfill our duty of outreach and transparency and make sure we’re more productive. It’s beyond (belief) that they would construe that as misconduct.”

Page had an opposite interpretation.

“The bylaws are pretty clear,” he said. “The subcommittees are not supposed to take anything out without approval of the (full) board.”

Khalil didn’t have to resign, Page said.

“This is not a firing offense,” Page said. “If he had just apologized and said, ‘Look, this was premature, I should have followed policy,’ this whole thing probably would have gone away. But he’s incapable of that kind of thing.”

Khalil said his resignation was not necessarily influenced by the frequent challenges from Page during meetings regarding procedural and other matters.

“I can take that all day,” Khalil said. But Khalil said he was disappointed that the motion to investigate himcame from Graham, whom Kahlil described as “someone I had trusted for years.”

Then, when a majority of the board approved of forming an ad hoc committee to investigate the issue, “I thought, there are bigger matters before this board rather than wasting time on investigations that have no merit,” Khalil said.

But Graham said she agreed with Page that “the board’s long-standing policy” was to hold off on sending official board communication before approval by the full board. She said no one admitted sending the letter to the Naval Base Point Loma during themeeting, and as the discussion deteriorated into “disorganized conversation,” she became convinced for the need to form an ad hoc committee to find out what happened.

“My intent was not to attack Suhail,” Graham said when contacted after the meeting. “My role on this board is to protect our integrity.”

Page offered this assessment: “The main problem was he was autocratic. He thought he should be able to make the board into the image he had in mind without the board’s input. I think those were his flaws and that’s why he ran into trouble.”

Early this week, there appeared to be a movement afoot for Khalil to return. At least five board members — Jay Shumaker, Rebecca Michael, Kinnaird, Paul Webb and Norm Allenby — circulated emails expressing that Khalil should reconsider his resignation.

But Khalil said he would not return.

“I don’t regret one minute of my time spent on the board on the matters I’ve addressed for the betterment of my community,” Khalil said. “I’m proud of our accomplishments, but there was just an irrational focus on communicating with government agencies.”
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