WILMONT BOARD ELECTION REMAINS IN LIMBO
By Hannah Heineman
The question of who, if anyone, was elected to the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition’s (Wilmont) Board of Directors early in June remains in limbo.
The election was scheduled to be held at the organization’s annual meeting on June 9, but, according to the group’s by-laws, elections can only be held at annual meetings, and, at the last minute, the existing board changed the annual meeting to a regular meeting, alleging it didn’t have access to current membership records and therefore couldn’t hold an election.
Wilmont’s membership secretary, Marcia Carter, had broken her hip and was in the hospital and the records were locked in her apartment. Only valid members are allowed to run for the board and vote in the election. Without Carter or her
records, the existing board claimed, it had no way of knowing who was eligible to run or vote.
However, over the protests of the existing board, an election was held at the June 9 meeting. Provisional ballots were used, so candidates’ and voters’ eligibility . could be validated when the records were found.
Early in the meeting, members voted to depose Wilmont Chair Valerie Griffin, though without the records the validity of that vote could not be assessed. The ballots, uncounted, were sealed in a box and Albin Gielicz, Wilmont’s Vice Chair, took possession of the box. Subsequently, he went out of town, and the box was entrusted to Zina Josephs, Chair of the Friends of Sunset Park.
As of press time, the ballots had still not been counted. The existing board consists of eight voting members and one non-voting member, but can have up to 15 members. Two of the seats were up for election and there were nine candidates on the provisional ballot.
The Wilmont Board was supposed to gather at a regularly scheduled meeting on June 18 but the meeting was cancelled, according to Chair Valerie Griffin, “due to lack of a quorum.”
Board candidates and other concerned Wilmont members, about 20 people in all, decided to meet anyway to discuss how and when the votes should be counted. Susan Scarafia, who proposed voting by provisional ballot on June 9 and is also a member of Santa Monicans Against Miramar Expansion (SMAME), led the discussion.
The Wilmont tumult began when Griffin appeared before the City Council a month or two ago to report that Wilmont favored the controversial expansion of the Miramar as it would ease the chronic parking problems that beset Wilmont
residents. At the time, Scarafia and other Wilmont members alleged that Griffin had rigged the vote and manipulated members to get the result she wanted.
Nothing in the Miramar expansion plan suggests it will ease residential parking.Nor is there any evidence that, as some current Wilmont members and other Miramar supporters have claimed, professional organizers hired by the Huntley Hotel organized the Wilmont board candidates.
Various ideas were discussed at the June 20 meeting, including contacting the Jimmy Carter Institute and Santa Monica College’s Emeritus College in order to find an independent third party to supervise the vote count. Participants also wondered whether the Wilmont Board was using Carter’s disability to delay counting the June 9 ballots, or to discard them altogether. Also discussed was the possibility of allowing more Wilmont members to vote because of the confusion at the June 9 meeting.
One of the Board candidates, Lenore Morrell, reported that she was studying the state laws for non-profits to find out whether Wilmont was violating its by-laws by not having an annual election or not recognizing the June 9 provisional election.
Jeanne Dobson. former Wilmont chair and now a Board candidate, stated that she had contacted various state agencies, including the Secretary of State and the California Attorney General’s Office, in order to determine whether Wilmont’s current Board was violating any state laws and if they could use “ California law to request their membership list.” She also noted that “City Hall does not want to be involved” with the election controversy.
Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek told the Dispatch that Wilmont receives funding from the City and that “funding is contingent on Wilmont complying with their by-laws” but their election process is up to them. She added that the city is currently “not looking into whether the Wilmont Board violated their by-laws.”
The Dispatch also contacted City TV’s Robin Gee, who was consulted by Griffin before she changed the June 9 annual meeting to a regular meeting. Gee was filling in for her superior, Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez who normally assists the neighborhood groups but was out of town. Gee e-mailed the Dispatch the following explanation. “The City does not get involved in the elections of neighborhood groups or the internal operations of the neighborhood organizations. The City’s involvement is mainly limited to a matching grant program for neighborhood groups. There is a list of requirements that a neighborhood organization has to meet in order to qualify for the grant funding. One of the requirements is for the neighborhood group to “Have an active board of directors or officers, selected in accordance with association bylaws, who meet regularly, with meetings open to the public.”
At a June 21 meeting of Santa Monicans Against Miramar Expansion (SMAME) at the Huntley Hotel, Scarafia reported that Griffin had been removed as chair of the June 9 meeting, not as chair of Wilmont.
Sue Burnside suggested discussing the election issue during public comment at a City Council meeting Also discussed was SMAME’s interviewing City Council candidates and endorsing those who will support its position against the Miramar expansion, and campaign against it.
There was also talk of asking the city to charter a new neighborhood association that would include the downtown area as well as the Miramar.
According to Burnside, SMAME now has about 1,000 members. She heads Burnside & Associates a firm she started in 1991 that, according to her website, “is a Los Angeles-based political consulting firm specializing in sophisticated grassroots field operations, turnout programs, ground-based vote-by-mail programs and coalition building.”
Meanwhile, Griffin, and her Board are still consulting legal counsel about the validity of the June 9 election process, and talking about holding a new election at an annual meeting that will be held in late July.