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Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Has Private Donor



By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

September 18, 2012 -- Wilmont Chair Valerie Griffin told Santa Monica's Neighborhood Council Saturday that the group's legal fees are being paid for by a donor, according to sources who attented the meeting.

Griffin, who originally told The Lookout that Wilmont was paying lawyer fees with membership dues, which are $10, clarified that the group had not been using City money -- a fact confirmed by City officials -- to pay for its lawyer.

Instead, she told the Neighborhood Council, the fees are being paid by someone who wishes to donate to the group, according to several people who attended Saturday's meeting.

Becki Kammerling, Griffin's attorney, said she could not speak to Griffin's statements Saturday. She also said that she could not speak to how Wilmont pays its legal fees, saying that such arrangements are private and “confidential.”

“At the meeting, (Griffin) said the money was coming from a private donor,” said Ocean Park Association Board of Directors member Mary Marlow, who chaired Saturday's meeting.

But Griffin did not say who the donor was.

“It's the (Neighborhood Council's) opinion that this dispute is distracting from real issues,” Marlow told The Lookout Monday. “We just want to move on.”

Griffin did not return two calls for comment.

At Saturday's meeting, members of the embattled Wilmont board were told that, until the dispute is settled, they should only attend Neighborhood Council meetings as members of the public, not representatives of a neighborhood group.

The Wilmont Board voted to hire Kammerling after a disgruntled crowd at the organization's annual meeting June 9 demanded that an election for new board members be held, despite Griffin's attempt to postpone the election.

A battle between Griffin -- joined by some members of the Wilmont Board -- and the eight members who claimed they were elected to the board ensued, causing Griffin to issue letters terminating their membership from the Wilmont organization.

“We are urging both sides to settle this dispute,” said Marlow.

But news that Wilmont's lawyer is paid for by a private donor has ruffled some feathers.

“The right to access to the membership list (name, address, voting status) is in California Corporations Code 6330,” Jim Pickrell, one of the eight elected during the provisional election, wrote in an e-mail to The Lookout.

He cited the code: “The accounting books and records and minutes of proceedings of the members and the board and committees of the board shall be open to inspection upon the written demand on the corporation of any member at any reasonable time, for a purpose reasonably related to such person's interests as a member."

“To the extent that we don't know who the secret donor is," Pickrell wrote, "it's not because this information is in any way legally confidential, but just because Valerie Griffin chooses to thumb her nose at the law and the members of the group who have repeatedly requested this information.”.

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