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Santa Monica's "Old" Wilmont Board Chair Has It Backwards

September 7, 2012

Dear Editor,

There are several things about the Wilmont debacle I don't understand -- primarily, "What is the criteria for the label "a small group"? Valerie Griffin continues to insist that a "small group" is trying to take over Wilmont. ("Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Has One Board and It Adjourned," August 30, 2012)

Although I'm not a resident of Wilmont, I attended the August 20th public meeting of Wilmont at Ken Edwards Center ("Rival Santa Monica Neighborhood Boards Square Off," August 22, 2012)

When I arrived, several members of the "new board" were seated at the head table with several members of the "old board." The meeting was chaotic with a lot of expressed anger. The static was around Valerie Griffin's continuing to insist, "There has been no election," referring to the June 9 annual meeting.

Valerie would not tolerate any feedback from the floor. Without any motion from the floor, she announced that "This meeting is adjourned."

The audience of about 28 people sat and watched as she and her three or four supporters walked out. At that point, there were six angry people including Valerie in the hall trying to disrupt the orderly meeting of 28 people inside the room. Yet Valerie continues to claim that a small group is trying to disrupt her meetings.

It appears she's got it backwards. A relatively large group of Wilmont residents is trying to be heard, and a small group of Wilmont "old board" members are trying to hold on to power in the face of opposition from a large group of residents. ("Santa Monica Group Holds Elections after Miramar Opponents Pack Meeting," June 9, 2012)

It appears to me there is a major disconnect between strategy and facts here -- that, in fact, a small group of Wilmont "old board" members are trying to hang on to power, and a relatively large group of Wilmont residents are attempting to be heard.

They're not upset that the "old board" doesn't take a membership vote about "every little thing" as Valerie claims. They're upset because Valerie Griffin publicly proclaimed that the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition supports the proposed building of the huge Miramar project without making sure that the residents who live within Wilmont actually support it.

This project will have a major impact on the neighborhood, and the opposition is very disturbed that they are being used and misrepresented in support of a project they oppose. There's a major difference between "every little thing" and the biggest project ever proposed for the neighborhood.

The election was held. The ballots have been counted. ("Santa Monica's Wilmont Coalition Gets New Board, Maybe," July 9, 2012)

Valerie's continuously stating at the August 20th meeting that "No election has taken place" bordered on lunacy. With their latest meeting held by phone with only 5 members participating this small group signaled that they intend to eliminate any criticism or any disagreement with their actions. ("Santa Monica's Wilmont Board Sidesteps Confrontation with Telephone Meeting," August 29, 2012)

This may be legal under law intended for for-profit corporations, but it certainly ignores the rules for city-recognized non-profits in the City of Santa Monica. The newly elected board members have all been notified of their expulsion from the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition and "forbidden" to ever attend another meeting. This is the way this small group represents the concerns of the residents?

I've been involved with neighborhood groups for 18 years in Santa Monica, and for 12 years before I moved here. It has always been my understanding that neighborhood groups are intended to reflect the concerns of the residents. This willful twisting of the facts, refusal to listen to residents, trivializing and demonizing those who disagree is beyond my comprehension in the framework of reflecting the concerns of the residents.

I have one overriding question: What's the point here? If this small subset of Wilmont is willing to risk losing a great many members over time and willing to alienate a new group of members, what is so important that it propels them to engage in this fight?

It's certainly NOT the "integrity of the corporation," as Valerie claims. It's certainly not about parking in the Miramar. There is already a commercial parking structure in Wilmont on 4th Street between Wilshire and California, and that hasn't made a dent in their parking problem. So what's the point?

I suggest that Valerie Griffin and her supporters obtain a copy of the book entitled "Leadership" by Pulitzer Prize winner, James MacGregor Burns. It's the classic in the field. Burns defines a leader as "one who responds to the needs of the led." He defines a dictator as "one who attempts to impose his will on the led."

In a democracy, the latter usually doesn't have much success retaining followers over time. And now that it's public knowledge that the Wilmont treasury is paying for the lawyer in this personal skirmish, it's possible that Wilmont may have a short life. While this small group continues to fight skirmishes, might they not just lose the war?

Ellen Brennan
Santa Monica

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