Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights recently endorsed three candidates for the four full-term City Council seats that are open this election season, but city councilmember Terry O’Day feels like he’s been cheated out of the organization’s support.
“I am writing to protest the SMRR leadership’s actions blocking SMRR’s endorsement of my candidacy for re-election to the Santa Monica City Council,” O’Day recently said in a letter to SMRR’s Steering Committee. “As this letter explains, the SMRR Convention’s chair, Michael Soloff, made improper and unlawful rulings that thwarted the will of a majority of SMRR’s membership who attended the convention on August 30th. If the SMRR majority’s will had been honored, I quite clearly would have received the SMRR endorsement.”
SMRR conventions have been held every other year since 1979 in an effort to help local residents and group members better understand candidates’ platforms.
“Apparently, the historical, unbroken practice of SMRR had been that they set a date by which people need to ask SMRR for the endorsement. And people who do not comply with that date are told that it’s too late and they may not ask for the endorsement. And there’s been a variety of people in the past who were turned down, including incumbent candidates. And that’s how they’ve done things,” Soloff said in an interview Friday when he detailed the “misinformation” that’s currently spreading in the community.
The day after the deadline, Soloff recalled one candidate reaching out but she was told: “There was a deadline and you missed it,” Soloff said. “The second candidate who was interested reached out the next day and he got the same response. Eight days after the deadline, Terry O’Day contacted us and got the exact same response.”
O’Day said in his letter — and again in an interview Thursday — that he was unaware there was such a requirement.
“The decision about the deadline and the rule that you have to ask for an endorsement is not in the bylaws itself. It’s just the historical practice and something that the steering committee and other chairs had put in place and practiced for years and years,” Soloff said, detailing how the system had been in place in each of the three prior elections. “All of which Terry managed to comply with requirements and ask for the endorsement.”
However, SMRR bylaws also state that members can override the actions of the steering committee as long as the motion wouldn’t result in a violation of the bylaws if it were to be granted.
“But there’s also a bylaw that says that a candidate must a member in good standing,” Soloff added.
The bylaws state candidates for the endorsement must be members in good standing, meaning dues are paid, but they do not state when that has to happen.
O’Day paid his dues before the membership convention but after candidates were sent questions.
“So, since Terry didn’t pay his dues for 2020, at the time that the questionnaire was due — he was not a member in good standing. During the time of the interviews, he was not a member of good standing,” said Soloff.
O’Day noted he paid his dues three days before the convention but Soloff said his review of the bylaws led him to believe that O’Day was not an eligible candidate since he failed to meet the required definitions.
Nevertheless, members have the right to appeal the decision of the chair, Soloff said, which they did at the convention.
School Board Vice President and longtime SMRR member Laurie Lieberman made a motion to override chair Soloff’s ruling and declare O’Day eligible for SMRR’s endorsement, the city councilman states in his letter. “The members then approved Ms. Lieberman’s motion by a vote of 61% to 39%,” but Soloff ruled that Lieberman’s motion had failed.
“They did not achieve the necessary two-thirds vote to overturn the ruling of the chair,” Soloff said. “And that was the end of that portion of it.”
But O’Day doesn’t believe he can stay quiet.
“I believe that the will of the majority of the members has been subverted and that’s not right,” O’Day said, sharing some people have sent a letter to the steering committee on his behalf but he has not yet heard from SMRR leadership.
“When there’s a gray area, you put it to the vote by members,” and that’s what happened at the convention when members overwhelmingly supported endorsing O’Day, he said. “This was a substantive decision. Not a procedural decision where the will of the majority prevailed.”
Soloff sees it differently.
“There were opportunities at the convention for people to do a fair reopening of the process that would allow everybody who got the same ‘no’ as Terry to try and gain the group’s endorsement,” Soloff said, “and the convention did vote to support that.”
O’Day said he could walk away from the battle and organization, “but instead I’m fighting for it. I’m fighting for the future of the organization and for its legacy,” because it’s important to restore the trust members have in SMRR.