MIDCITY ¬ó Members of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition gathered Saturday afternoon to count ballots in a contested election that may result in the ouster of two incumbent board members.

Of the 10 candidates that received votes in the election, the eight top vote getters were all part of a new coalition seeking to grab a majority of positions on the Wilmont board and received between 41 and 49 votes out of a total of 56 counted ballots.

The two incumbents, Benjamin Steers and Diane Krakauer, received 19 and 16 votes, respectively. If the votes stand, Krakauer will lose her place on the board.

The validity of the totals will remain in question until the votes are checked against membership roles for the organization, but the act of counting brings a measure of closure to a contentious process that has dragged on for over a month.

The winners are members of a coalition of 11 candidates that threw their hats in the ring to reclaim power from the existing board which, they felt, had governed the organization in secrecy as “their own private club.”

Members complained that they could not get copies of the organization’s bylaws, and that they disagreed with positions the board took unilaterally on major developments in Santa Monica, particularly the massive remodel of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

The board signaled its support for that project without polling its membership, and members of the board also joined an independent organization called Friends of the Miramar.

The vote took place on Saturday, June 8 at Wilmont’s annual meeting under a cloud. Marcia Carter, Wilmont’s director of membership, had broken her hip just days before the meeting and was hospitalized.

The membership list, which is used to ensure that each ballot is cast by an eligible member of Wilmont, was on a series of cards locked away in her home, inaccessible.

Board chair Valerie Griffin attempted to cancel the vote, but a raucous crowd wrested control of the meeting from her and handed it to Wilmont co-chair Albin Gielicz, who took over the meeting and allowed the vote to go forward on a provisional basis.

Each person voted for nine candidates and placed their ballots in an envelope with their names on it so that their ballot could be checked against membership rolls at a later date.

Under the supervision of a member of the Santa Monica Police Department, the ballot box was sealed with tape, signed and given to Gielicz for safe keeping until the votes could be counted.

The box was later given to Zina Josephs, a member of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood group.

In the intervening weeks, the coalition of new candidates worked to piece together a membership list, first through unsuccessful efforts to get the official rolls from the incumbent board and then by soliciting proof of payment from people in Wilmont who had attended the annual meeting.

That still may disenfranchise many others who claim that they paid but either do not have proof or whose membership checks were never cashed.

They formed a list of approximately 30 names that had proven that they were members at the time that the ballots were cast.

Saturday afternoon, a group of three independent vote counters and around 20 members of Wilmont and other members of the public gathered for the official vote count, one month after the ballots were cast.

Lauren Murray, the assistant treasurer at law firm Latham & Watkins, former City Councilmember Kelly Olsen and attorney and mediator Carole Aragon were entrusted with the duty of opening each ballot, matching the name on the envelope to the approximate membership rolls and tallying the votes.

Each had been invited either directly or indirectly by Jeanne Dodson, one of the candidates running for the Wilmont board.

The totals may include ineligible voters, but those disputes will be a topic for another day, the counters concluded.

“Our job is not to do the vetting, we do the counting,” Aragon said.

It is unclear if the existing board will accept the results of the vote, despite the precautions taken. Griffin did not return e-mails for comment prior to the count.

The candidates that claimed victory Saturday – Dodson, Robert Gurfield, Peter Heller, Jim Pickerell, Elizabeth Van Danburgh, Reinhard Kargil, Lenore Morrell and Alin Wall – will attend the next Wilmont board meeting, which they anticipate will be held July 16.


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