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|Santa Monica Group Holds Elections after Miramar Opponents Pack Meeting|
By Jason Islas
June 9, 2012 -- “It's a coup,” said Wilmont Coalition Board member Larry Isaacs. “This election is not lawful.”
An angry crowd had flooded into a conference room at the Santa Monica Main Library determined to force the board to hold elections at their annual meeting Saturday morning.
Chair Valerie Griffin had attempted to adjourn the session, appealing to a Santa Monica police officer and several library security guards for help. But cries of protest had erupted as more than 50 residents demanded elections for positions on the Wilmont board.
Griffin seconded Isaacs' sentiments, saying that the election was “not a board-sanctioned procedure.”
Amidst shouts and jeers, Griffin was voted down as moderator by a show of hands, and after a 47 to 4 vote, Wilmont officials conceded to the election.
The "coup" capped a stormy week that began when the Wilmont board announced they would postpone their annual elections until the membership of the 11 candidates vying for seats on the board could be verified.
Most of the candidates were angered by Wilmont's recent support of the proposed redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel and noted that the group's bylaws require that elections be held for new board members at the annual meeting.
Co-Chair Albin Gielicz, who took over for Griffin, told the crowd that he thought it would be a bad idea to go ahead with the election Saturday because “these elections are so marred in controversy,” adding that the room had “an air of intimidation.”
“There is a risk that if we go forward with the election, it will be invalidated,” said Gielicz.
The crowd easily voted to take that risk.
Once the motion to hold the election carried, the audience calmed down and heard from each of the 11 candidates, as well as the two incumbents -- Benjamin Steers and Diane Krakauer. Gieclicz spoke on behalf of Steers, who was not at the meeting.
Most candidates expressed frustration that the current board endorsed the development project proposed by the nearly 90-year-old hotel, which would add as many as 120 condominiums in three new buildings that would replace the two existing main buildings.
Candidate Reinhard Kargl was angered by the Wilmont board's attempt “to speak for the community on very pertinent issues.”
Former Wilmont chair and candidate Jeanne Dodson said she didn't have a problem with the Miramar but that the Wilmont board was suffering from a “lack of transparency.”
Manju Raman, general manager of the Huntley Hotel, which has been accused of coordinating the opposition, withdrew her petition to run.
Huntley officials say that the Miramar redevelopment would block the ocean view from the 16-story hotel and disrupt business during construction.
Once ballots were passed out, residents marked their choices, placed the ballots in envelopes and sealed them.
They were instructed to write their names, addresses and telephone numbers on the envelopes so that once the memberships could be verified, the ballots of those who qualified could be counted.
The acrimonious mood at Saturday's meeting was not a surprise.
Earlier in the week, Griffin sent an e-mail to Wilmont members claiming that the City had given her special permission to postpone elections because Wilmont's 83-year-old membership director broke her hip.
The e-mail prompted Dodson, who said City officials denied giving permission, to send a response calling for all Wilmont members to go to Saturday's meeting and vote.
“I was thrilled to see the Democratic process prevail,” said Dodson. “The residents had their voices heard."
It is unclear when the ballots will be counted and there are some who question whether the election will be upheld.
“We will contact our legal counsel to determine the validity of this process,” Griffin said. “We are not making any further comments until we have advice of legal counsel.”
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