City Councilman Kevin McKeown gave election rules advice to the embattled chairwoman of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition as it prepared earlier this month for a vociferous election that ended in dispute.
McKeown suggested to Wilmont chairwoman Valerie Griffin and the board of directors that it require would-be candidates to qualify for the election based on longstanding rules not included in the group's bylaws, according to an email McKeown shared with Patch. Candidates for the eight board seats later accused Wilmont's board of creating arbitrary election rules that would disqualify most, if not all of them.
In the email to nominee Jeanne Dodson, councilman McKeown wrote:
I've been told that some years ago, before Valerie was chair but within the memory of several remaining Board members, the Board exercised that power to make rules involving length of membership and engagement at monthly meetings for Board candidates, so that Board members would be familiar with the organization's breadth of purpose and would have demonstrated some commitment to the neighborhood. When I heard this (because the rules were added after I left for Council), I suggested that the added qualifications be specified to all candidates before Saturday's meeting.
McKeown lives in the neighborhood coalition's boundaries and is a past chairman of the organization.
Eleven members submitted applications to run in the election, most of them saying they were upset by a perceived lack of transparency by the current leadership. Griffin, meanwhile, accused the nominees of being backed by corporate interests and attempting a takeover.
In a letter to the editor in Tuesday's edition of the Santa Monica Daily Press, local attorney Stanley Epstein accused councilman McKeowen of interjecting himself inappropriately. Epstein has sided with the candidates in calling the rules arbitrary.
McKeown said he played a limited role, which was to "suggest disclosure by Valerie Griffin of rules she believed were valid and had effect on the weekend's election."
"I had nothing to do with adopting those rules," he told Patch.
The rules say nominees must have been a voting member of the coalition for the previous year, attended at least three meetings and added to the functioning of the organization. The bylaws require that nominees be voting members of the organization and live within the district, they must also submit a petition signed by 10 members of Wilmont.
In his email to Dodson, McKeown also wrote:
If these rules were new this week, in response to a particular situation (the eleven petitions in one day), I might tend to agree that they were intended to thwart specific candidates. If, as I've been told, they are at least several years old and have been in place consistently no matter who ran in a given year, I'm not so sure the intent at the time of adoption was conspiratorial.
Dodson's response to the councilman was, "shame on you."
"We have a very large pool of supporters and I hope you remember that," she told him.
Candidate Reinhard Kargl said McKeown has a track record of "being the most fervent proponent of residents' rights on the entire City Council and has also been the strongest supporter of neighborhood groups."
Reinhard, Dodson and the other candidates are now waiting to hear the results of an election held Saturday during a Wilmont meeting. Griffin disputes the elections are official, because she had removed them from the day's agenda.
During the same meeting, membership voted to oust Griffin as chair. She plans to conduct the board's next regularly-scheduled meeting June 18.