Wilmont is one of seven neighborhood groups in Santa Monica. These groups are supposed to be run by members and act on matters that impact them. Lately, though, Wilmont seems to have lost its way. That changed when residents reclaimed their organization at last Saturday’s annual meeting. Members felt Wilmont could use some transparency, some fresh thinking and a little administrative help.

Consider:

• Rules of eligibility for directorship were raised only after candidates followed existing bylaws to file their petitions to run for seats on the board of directors.

• These rules aren’t in the bylaws, are not consistent with the bylaws and are not posted anywhere.

• No information about openings on the board of directors was on the website or in the annual meeting announcement.

• Responses to members’ requests for public documents were delayed an inordinate amount of time or denied.

• A request for board meeting minutes was made five times over seven weeks before a response was given.

• A request for a copy of the bylaws was ignored for four weeks.

• A request to make copies of board meeting minutes was refused.

• A request for a copy of the 2012 annual meeting agenda was denied and the agenda was not on the Wilmont website.

• Controversial board support for the largest development in the neighborhood in decades was made by the board with no input from members.

• The board then failed to put the issue of this development on the agenda for membership debate at either the 2011 or the 2012 annual meetings, contrary to the bylaws.

• A member was made to wait three months before being allowed to address the board about its support for that project and was denied a request to invite the membership to that meeting for consultation and discussion.

• The membership list was held by one director and wasn’t available to the rest of the board after that director suffered an unfortunate injury.

• There were unverifiable reasons to indefinitely postpone the election at the annual meeting.

• The board refused to respond to a timely, reasonable request from the former board chair and candidates running for the board to conduct this year’s election at the annual meeting as required by the bylaws, using provisional ballots that could be verified once the membership roll was available. (This procedure was spelled out in detail in writing ahead of time so that the board could agree or propose another procedure that would enable the election to take place).

• The board chair refused to follow Robert’s Rules of Order — the guide for the annual meeting specified in the bylaws — at Saturday’s annual meeting. The chair refused, instructed security officers to remove members who invoked Robert’s Rules (which security respectfully declined to do) and then tried to adjourn the meeting so that no election could take place.

Does this sound like a good way to foster the basic purpose of Wilmont under its bylaws — which is for neighbors to work together to “participate in the democratic process and to work toward [improving the quality of life in the community]?” Does it help to further communication, serve the neighborhood and build membership?

Sadly, on Saturday the board chair appeared tone deaf to her constituency when she tried to recast the required annual meeting as a “community meeting,” refused to allow the agenda to include the required elections and refused to follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Not surprisingly, the result was her removal as chair of the meeting under the bylaws and Robert’s Rules, by an overwhelming vote of 47-4.

What precipitated the last-minute maneuvering to postpone the election? Was it that 11 people filed petitions to run for election to the board of directors with new ideas for ways to improve the quality of life in the community, act with transparency and insist that Wilmont’s bylaws be upheld rather than circumvented?

On Saturday, because the full membership list was not available to verify who was eligible to vote, Wilmont members voted to hold the election as scheduled by casting signed, sealed provisional ballots for the nine open seats on the board of directors. These ballots will be counted at a public meeting when the membership list is available.

By their actions, Wilmont neighbors reaffirmed their fundamental right to have their voices heard and to vote on the governance of their organization. They look forward to the vote count being done soon and openly and to being led by a fairly elected board of directors that operates transparently, is administratively competent and values participation by everyone who lives in the Wilmont neighborhood.

Susan Scarafia has been a member of Wilmont since 2007. She is not a candidate for the Board of Directors and has not served on the board.

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