Harrison County

Biloxi AHRC members asked to resign may be given reprieve

Andrew "FoFo" Gilich
Andrew "FoFo" Gilich SUN HERALD

Five members of Biloxi's Architectural and Historical Review Commission opened their email Monday to find a letter from Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich asking for their resignation by 5 p.m.

The letter was sent to chairman Gary Lechner, Kevin Felsher, Kay Bankston, Elia Vasilopoulos and Sugar Stallings.

By Monday afternoon, Gilich met with some of the commissioners, said public affairs director Vincent Creel, and none had resigned.

Instead, Creel said the mayor will ask the city council on Tuesday to increase the size of the board to 12 members.

"That way no one will have to resign," he said. "Frankly they are all proud of the job they have done."

Lechner has served since 2005 and said, "Don't send me a letter via email, and then ask for my resignation that same day."

Members serve without pay, and Lechner said he would have stepped down had it been handled differently and without the demand he resign immediately -- "which I'm not going to do," he said.

The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday and has eight new applications and one pending application on the agenda.

"After this meeting, I will agree to resign," Bankston said. While she said more people who own historic properties should serve on the commission, "The procedure of resignation was not professional."

Lawsuit threatened

Creel agreed that the call for resignations could have been handled better, but said the city is facing a lawsuit over the makeup of the board.

The call for their resignation came after the mayor discovered at last Tuesday's city council meeting that seven of the nine members are required by ordinance to live in a historic district. Residents of Seal Avenue appealed the AHRC decision to approve the design of a proposed La Quinta hotel on nearby Hopkins Boulevard. The residents want it built to more historic standards and pointed out that the AHRC board doesn't meet the requirements.

Community Development Director Jerry Creel said during the meeting that as members leave the AHRC, they will be replaced by those who live in historic districts.

The five members who received letters live outside the district, Gilich said.

Special meeting called

A special meeting is scheduled Tuesday after the 1:30 p.m. meeting to discuss the proposed La Quinta Inn on Beach Boulevard. Vincent Creel said the mayor wants to bring the AHRC into compliance by appointing five new board members Tuesday and get them approved that day by the city council.

What happens after that depends on what actions the council takes, Creel said. Last week the council upheld the residents' appeal and remanded the case back to the AHRC for another hearing.

The new members, along with the four who live in the historic district, will then rehear the La Quinta case. Creel said that could happen on Thursday.

Problems with the makeup of the AHRC board go back to the Land Development Ordinance of 2010, Creel said, when the residency requirement was added. Gilich wasn't informed that the board wasn't in compliance, he said.

Lechner's term expired in March, and under the ordinance, he continues until another person is appointed. The ordinance also says two of the five would be allowed to remain on the commission, but Gilich told them, "In order to meet the requirements of residency and re-establish the integrity of the AHRC, I will have to replace several of you. This is a regrettable circumstance, but one most necessary in order to quickly resurrect a viable AHRC that is critical to our development review process."

The AHRC reviews exterior architectural designs, colors, signs and fences to determine if they complement the surrounding homes, businesses and landmarks in the historic district. They serve on four-year staggered terms until a successor is appointed, according to the ordinance.

Gilich ended his letter to the members with, "Thank you for your service to Biloxi and thank you for helping me correct a problem that I only recently learned we have."

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