WILMONT ¬óOn July 11, Adam Rakunas, a 16-year Santa Monica resident at 14th Street and California Avenue, was a member of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition.
The next day, that changed.
Rakunas was one of an unknown number of people who received a cease and desist letter from the board of the neighborhood group, commonly called Wilmont.
The letter, sent by attorney Becki Kammerling of the Santa Monica-based firm Sustainable Lawyer, accused Rakunas of violating Wilmont¬ís rules and regulations by participating in a vote at what was meant to be the group¬ís annual meeting on June 9.
His membership was permanently revoked, and he was told in no uncertain terms that ¬ìin the event that you attempt to attend any future meetings of the organization, you will be escorted by security off the premises.¬î
Rakunas was shocked. He never attended the June 9 meeting, at which a group of residents took over the Wilmont annual meeting and held a vote to elect nine new board members.
¬ìI was planning on going, but my wife reminded me that it was my turn to stay home and take care of our daughter,¬î Rakunas said.
And so continues an ongoing dispute between rival factions in one of Santa Monica¬ís neighborhood groups over the validity of the June 9 vote.
According to the cease and desist letter and a release by Valerie Griffin, the chair of the Wilmont Board of Directors, the board voted Wednesday to kick out all members of the ¬ìrival group¬î that took over the June 9 meeting and attempted to elect a slate of anti-development candidates to the board.
Those same candidates, called the Wilmont Rebels on a supporting website, received the cease and desist letter warning them against calling themselves board members of Wilmont under threat of civil or criminal charges.
The Wilmont Rebels have decided to lawyer up as well, and have established a fund to help defray the legal costs, according to a release by disputed board member Reinhard Kargl.
¬ìThe allegations made in the letter are false, malicious and baseless,¬î Kargl wrote. ¬ìThey are ludicrous and further evidence that the current board no longer represents the wishes of Wilmont members.¬î
City Hall, which provides $4,000 to the neighborhood group in grant funding, will not get involved in the dispute, wrote Kate Vernez, deputy city manager for special projects, in an e-mail.
The Wilmont board holds that the vote never officially happened. Days before the annual meeting at which the vote was supposed to occur, the board called off the meeting and commuted it to a ¬ìcommunity meeting.¬î
The reasoning: Marcia Carter, the octogenarian in charge of membership rolls, had fallen and broken a hip. The rolls, locked away on cards in her apartment, were unavailable, and so the vote could not proceed.
Without the rolls, it was both impossible to verify that either the voters or the 11 candidates who turned in nomination papers to run for office were dues-paying members of Wilmont, Griffin said at the time.
The group went ahead with the vote on June 9 and counted the votes on July 7. Of the nine people they announced were elected to the board, eight of them belonged to what Griffin refers to as the ¬ìsplinter group.¬î
Those individuals say that they ran for the seats in an attempt to win the Wilmont board back for the residents and overpower a group of entrenched leaders who made decisions on key items without care for their constituency.
The current board believes that the new candidates were organized by the operators of the Huntley Hotel, a luxury hotel that is opposed to the expansion of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, which the Wilmont board supported. The hotels are located across from one another on Second Street.
No one ever wanted to be on the board before the Fairmont Miramar project came to a head, said Larry Isaacs, a long-time member of the Wilmont Board.
Now it feels like ¬ìmob rule,¬î he said.
The Wilmont board announced that it would cancel its regular meeting scheduled for July 16. That is the second meeting in a row that has been called off.
Jeanne Dodson, a former member of the Wilmont board and now one of the rebel leaders, said that the meeting would go on as planned and that the group was ¬ìexploring legal action.¬î
Rakunas just hopes he¬íll get his membership fee back. This is not how he expected it would be used.