Ethics laws would prohibit Potter from representing clients before the commissionPointing to a state ethics rule, Tom Potter has withdrawn from the Astoria Historic Landmarks Commission just weeks after he joined the panel.
Potter, whose appointment to the commission by Mayor Willis Van Dusen sparked criticism, said he decided to withdraw after learning that he would not be able to represent clients of his architectural business before the panel. He had not yet attended a commission meeting.
State ethics laws prohibit members of public committees and commissions from testifying to those panels on issues in which they may have a financial interest, even if the person temporarily steps down from the panel.
Potter said he occasionally represents clients before the landmarks commission, and according to the rules he could no longer do so without risking legal action against himself.
"My job comes first, I need to represent my clients," he said. "I can't do both."
Potter referred to a 1999 letter from attorney Jeanyse Snow written to members of the landmarks commission, planning commission and design review committee about the ethics rules. Snow wrote that the rules are worded broadly enough that a commission member could try to challenge them, but she pointed out that the city could not represent anyone who was sued over the issue.
Potter said he's "a hot enough item" that any instance in which he tried to represent a client while serving on the commission would likely result in a legal challenge.
Van Dusen said Monday he understood Potter's reason for stepping down. He noted that the commission has two vacancies, and urged citizens interested in serving on the panel to contact the mayor's office at 325-5824 to get more information on applying.
Van Dusen's appointment of Potter to the landmarks commission earlier this month was met by criticism from many people who said the former city councilor was unsuited for the panel because of what they called his hostility to the city's historic preservation process.
During his council tenure Potter supported proposals to reduce the commission's authority to an advisory level and to exempt new buildings next to historic structures from the design review process.
The Historic Landmarks Commission reviews new construction and renovation projects for compliance with the city's historic design review criteria.
Potter did not comment on the criticism sparked by his appointment.
"It's funny that people don't seem to realize I would only be one-seventh of the commission," he said.
Van Dusen acknowledged that his choice of Potter was controversial, but said many citizens also supported the appointment.
"I will stick with my feeling that balance is important," he said.