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Santa Monica's Wilmont Coalition Gets New Board, Maybe  


By Jason Islas

July 9, 2012 -- A month after votes were cast, members of Santa Monica’s Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition announced Saturday that a new board had been elected.

After the 57 ballots -- which had been sealed since the June 9 election -- were tallied at a special meeting, eight new members will join the board, while one incumbent was re-elected and another ousted.

The ballot box (photos by Jason Islas)

But it remains to be seen if the closely watched vote count -- overseen by three impartial judges -- will be validated by the current board, which has refused to partake in the tally or to acknowledge the votes cast.

“I’m glad to see so many people interested in taking part in neighborhood activities,” said Betty Muller, the only current board member who showed up at the vote count Saturday. “I hope it comes out okay.”

Muller, a former Rent Board member, said she was excited that Wilmont will get new board members.

“That’s how it’s supposed to work,” she said.

According to the count, incumbent Benajmin Steers will return to the Board. He will be joined by eight new members -- Jeanne Dodson, Robert Gurfield, Reinhardt Kargl, Lenor Morrell, Jim Pickrell, Deborah Roetman, Elizabeth Van DeBurgh and Alin Wall.

Incumbent Diane Krakower failed to win re-election.
The bylaws state that the board should have no fewer than eight members and no more than 15.

Left to right: Kelly Olsen, Ed Hunsaker, and Carole Aragon looking over the ballots

Former City Council member Kelly Olsen, Santa Monica attorney and professional mediator Carole Aragon and Lauren Murray, a cash manager for Latham & Watkins, oversaw the vote count at the Church of the Nazerene.

About two dozen Wilmont members looked on as the ballot box was opened and the votes tallied.

“I’m just here to help with the democratic process,” said Olsen. “There’s always tension (in these neighborhood groups), but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this.”

The meeting was facilitated by Wilmont member Ed Hunsaker, who explained that once the ballots were counted, they would be placed back into the envelopes -- with each voter’s name and address -- pending membership verification.

The official membership list was unavailable because the current board has been incommunicado, said Hunsaker.

Olsen, Aragon, and Murray were working from a list compiled from receipts and other records that verified the status of individual members. But Hunsaker acknowledges that their records were incomplete.

Saturday’s election was the culmination of a month-long controversy that began on June 9 when Wilmont Chair Valerie Griffin attempted to postpone the election which, according to the bylaws, must be held at the organization’s annual meeting.

Griffin said that the board would be unable to verify voters’ membership status because Wilmont's membership director, Marcia Carter, was in the hospital with a broken hip.

The crowd at the June 9 meeting insisted on an election and voted Griffin down as the chair of the meeting.

Each member cast a provisional vote, placing ballots in envelopes so that their membership could be verified later.

Many of the candidates were angered by Wilmont’s decision to endorse the Miramar redevelopment project, which would add as many as 120 condominiums in three new buildings that would replace the two existing main buildings.

“This has been a baptism of fire,” Hunsaker said.

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