RSF Association director requests public hearing to discuss code of conduct violations

RSF Association board members at a past board meeting this year.
(Karen Billing)

Rancho Santa Fe Association Director Bill Strong is objecting to claims that he has violated the Association board’s code of conduct. Since Feb. 1, he has requested to respond to the allegations during an open public meeting rather than a closed executive session, at a mutually convenient date.

At the board’s March 3 meeting, Strong made a statement in public disclosing that the board is considering disciplinary actions against him: “This is being done to silence and intimidate me from carrying out my fiduciary responsibilities as a director.”

Strong said he received a 15-page document from board President Bill Weber in late January outlining his 33 violations of the board’s code of conduct—Strong said the majority, 19, were email violations and 14 were things he wrote in published op-eds.

The intent was for the board to discuss the document at February’s closed executive session meeting. Strong objected as due to a technological glitch, he said he received the document with less than 24 hours notice. He has since retained his own counsel and has requested two weeks advance notice for any future agenda item on the topic.

Per the Davis-Stirling Act which governs homeowners associations, meeting notices for executive sessions held in between open meetings must be given two days in advance; for closed sessions with an open session, it is required to have four days notice.

Boards have an obligation to keep disciplinary matters confidential but disciplined members do not—a member can waive their right to confidentiality.

There have been two more executive sessions since the initial letter, both of which Strong has also objected to. He said his requests for an open session hearing have been ignored and he has not received a response from the board in over six weeks.

“I’ve made it clear any accusations of me I want heard in a public meeting as is my right,” Strong said. “I have been wrongly accused of wrongdoing which is a smokescreen to hide my accuser’s wrongdoing, including their failure to perform their fiduciary responsibilities. For this reason, any accusations of my behavior must be handled in open session.”

Neither the board or staff responded to Strong’s statement at the March 3 meeting.

According to the RSF Association, there is no pending action or disciplinary hearing against Strong.

“Director Strong was provided with a list of concerns regarding his conduct in his capacity as a director and officer of the board. A number of the concerns involved subject matter that the board deemed improper for public consumption, so the board addressed these issues privately with Director Strong in an executive session approximately 30 days after a list of concerns was provided to him,” said the Association in a provided statement. “The board did not take any disciplinary action against Director Strong, and none is pending that would necessitate a hearing or further board action.

“The board removed Director Strong from his position as vice president, but this was not discipline. It is well-settled that officers sit at the pleasure of the Board and can be removed with or without cause at any time.”

In addition to having his title removed, Strong said he was also removed from committee assignments. He believes that the allegations are “punishment” for requesting to have closed session items heard in open session, in an effort to increase transparency and abide by Davis-Stirling Act requirements. Per Davis-Stirling, boards may only go into executive sessions to discuss confidential topics such as litigation, formation of contracts, disciplinary hearings, personnel issues and payment plans. There are additional issues that may require confidentiality such as foreclosure, disability requests, potential liability issues and director censure.

Strong has also objected to the Art Jury appointment process and has expressed his frustration with what he feels is a lack of progress over the last three years on the board’s goal to achieve consistency with Art Jury decisions.

Strong said among his listed violations of the code of conduct were claims that he engaged in writing or speech that defamed another volunteer leader, employee, owner or resident of the community, which he denies: “I have not defamed anybody.”

Strong, a member of the community since 1985, is finishing out his second three-year term on the board, 15 years after his first. He only has three more board meetings left in his term—he is not seeking re-election and said he does not believe in consecutive terms.

“I have always acted responsibly and I have never ‘defamed, coerced, or attempted to intimidate or control’ anyone,” Strong said. “The ugliness that has been directed at me, along with other personal attacks, no hardworking volunteer should have to endure. It is also poor governance, discourages needed volunteers and is beneath the dignity and intelligence of our beloved RSF.”