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Conflict of Interest?

Political Intrigue Behind Goleta Urban Forest Management Plan


Behind a hearing to consider an Urban Forest Management Plan at yesterday’s Goleta City Council meeting was a bit of political intrigue. Chris Messner, a former landscaping contractor and member of the Street Tree Subcommittee circulated a critical review of a draft plan written by the nonprofit Goleta Valley Beautiful (GVB).

At the root of Messner’s concern is the suspicion that Ken Knight, the executive director of GVB, is fleecing the city to benefit himself and his organization. He claimed that Knight recommends planting native species that are only grown in GVB’s nursery while dedicating an entire section of the plan to heritage trees that he offers tours to. Messner also complained that the draft plan was composed using a template downloaded from a Web site, rendering it unspecific and unworthy of the $47,000 in grant money GVB is spending on the plan.

Knight readily admitted that he used several templates but that doing so is standard practice. City arborist Bill Millar agreed. Knight also said it is patently false that his nursery is the only source of the native species he endorses in the draft. He also denied seeking personal benefit, saying the GVB pays him a very modest salary of $34,000.

City Councilmembers Ed Easton and Roger Aceves worried that GVB’s dual role as advisor and provider of services poses a conflict of interest. In the end, though, the council was more concerned about the details of the plan. They voted to create an ad hoc committee to iron out the wrinkles before voting on adoption in June.



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