WILMONT — The Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition announced Friday it would stand by its decision to purge its membership of an opposition group that tried to dominate the coalition’s elections in June.
The board sent out notices to what some estimate to be 30 people who supported or participated in what it holds were “unlawful” elections at a canceled annual meeting on June 9.
Those who received letters had until Friday to fight to retain their membership. While several did so — including the eight people that had prevailed in the contested elections — only two received consideration.
The first, Adam Rakunas, was reinstated along with an apology.
Rakunas never attended the annual meeting, but was axed because of a letter to the editor published on a local news website that was critical of the Wilmont board.
A second person, Harriet Epstein, was given the option to reapply for membership.
She and her husband, Stan Epstein, had held a joint membership until the Wilmont board decided to permanently remove Stan Epstein. Harriet Epstein also did not attend the controversial annual meeting.
The exact number of terminations was left purposefully vague, said Becki Kammerling of the Sustainable Law Group, a Santa Monica firm representing the seated Wilmont board.
“There are a couple more than that,” she said, referring to the 11 people whose petitions to join the election set off a chain of events that has caused a schism in one of Santa Monica’s biggest neighborhood groups.
In May, a group turned in nomination papers to join in the Wilmont election, expected to be held at the annual meeting on June 9.
Members of the group said they were angry at the lack of transparency on the Wilmont board, particularly around a decision to support the Fairmont Miramar Hotel revitalization project.
Just days before the election was to take place, Marcia Carter, the octogenarian who kept Wilmont’s membership rolls, fell down the stairs of her apartment, breaking her hip.
The list of voting members was sealed away in her apartment, and Wilmont chair Valerie Griffin sent out a notice saying that the election was canceled.
Many of the membership, incensed by what they felt were underhanded dealings by a board who was not listening to them on development, attended the meeting and forced the election to go forward, despite Griffin’s attempts to adjourn.
The ballots were counted several weeks later, at which point eight members of the new group were declared to be board members even as the original, seated board protested that the election was invalid and that they could not use the Wilmont name.
Despite that, a handful of the newly-elected board members have taken to attending public meetings and introducing themselves as members of the Wilmont board, in violation of the cease and desist notice.
It was they, and a handful of others, who got the boot on Friday.
The board plans to hold an election within the calendar year for the two open positions, now filled by incumbents Diane Krakower and Benjamin Steers, Kammerling said.
In many ways, it will be the first properly-noticed election that the Wilmont group has seen in years.
The most recent contest should not have been able to go forward at all because no candidate names appeared on the notice of election, Kammerling said.
“All of the nominees will be verified as eligible in advance and their names will be listed in the notice to members at least 21 days prior to the election,” Kammerling said.