By Karen Billing
Ann Boon was removed as president of the Rancho Santa Fe Association Board of Directors at a Feb. 20 meeting. Directors voted 5-2 in favor of her removal, with Boon and director Craig McAllister voting against the ouster.
“The board lost confidence in Ann’s leadership and felt she was no longer the right person to run the board,” RSF Association Vice President Rochelle Putnam said.
Putnam said the vote to remove Boon was first made at a “properly noticed” Feb. 14 executive session meeting following a Feb. 6 meeting in which Boon discussed the budget, employee compensation, transparency, requests for information and an error found in a 2011 form 990 tax return.
“When I first ran for the Association board, people cautioned me that it was a contact sport. In the last four or five months it has seemed at times that both the board and outside sources have all been playing extreme hardball with Association business,” McAllister said. “Ann Boon clearly ruffled some feathers but not to the extent that I believe would or should warrant her removal as president of the Association board. In fact, I believe she has merely been trying to do the job she was elected to do.”
Director Jerry Yahr agreed that the last few months serving on the board have been less enjoyable than he’d hoped. He said that of course the board feels transparency is important, but the way Boon handled the release of information is an area they felt the board needed to change.
Boon said she appreciated the fact that about 70 RSF Association members attended the meeting and noted that while they all have diverging opinions, the one thing they all have in common is their care for the community.
Boon said she is committed to continue working with the board and they will move forward in the best interest of all community members. She said she would continue to promote transparency and prudent financial stewardship and plans to run for a second term in June.
“No matter her position, I know she will continue to work tirelessly for our community,” said director Heather Slosar, who said she made the decision to remove Boon to restore unity on the board.
In a unanimous vote, director Philip Wilkinson was voted the new board president.
“I do think we need to move forward in a productive and respectful manner and I firmly believe in openness and transparency,” Wilkinson said. “We will together move on and move forward as one. I have to clearly recognize the hard work of the staff and the management of the Association. The entire staff deserves respect and appreciation, not the least of which is [RSF Association Manager] Pete Smith, for all he has done over the last 19 years.”
Smith is currently on sick leave and Wilkinson said the board wished him the best and hoped for his quick return. In his absence, Assistant Manager Ivan Holler was named the acting Association manager.
Bruce Bishop, the Association’s longtime parliamentarian, took over the meeting during public comment. Opinions on the board’s removal of Boon as president seemed to be split down the middle at the meeting and Association members were civil as they expressed differing views.
David Moon, a 43-year resident, said he wasn’t there to defend Boon or to take sides but to comment on the current overall atmosphere of the community.
Moon said his diagnosis of the real problem out in the community is that an “in” group and an “out” group have formed. He said the “in group” feels privileged to act on behalf of the entire community due to their age, tenure and financial success and “do not suffer well suggestions for improvements in governance.” The “out group” feels their suggestions are unwelcome and that they are attacked when they speak out and feel excluded and neglected.
He said there should be a way for everyone to work together.
“There is tension between the ins and the outs, it sounds a little bit like high school,” Moon said. “This tension is being played out right now in the Garden Club process and the vote to remove the president. The ins focus their energy on crushing the outs and the outs spend their time finding fault with the board management and manager. There are far more sophisticated ways of dealing with differences of opinion.”
Moon wondered why, in such an intelligent community of people, solutions seem to come in the most disruptive and “primitive” ways.
Several Association members spoke up in favor of the board’s action to change leadership and not just wait until the board turnover and new officer elections in June.
“Divisive leadership is poor leadership and I believe that’s what you’ve suffered through over the last six months or so,” said Jack Queen, a former RSF Association board president.
Queen said he applauded the board’s actions and that now they can go to work re-building the competence of the board and get things done.
Resident Jim Ashcraft said the RSF Association board’s job is to respect the Covenant’s past and protect its future, to respect the community and staff and make decisions for the benefit of all.
“Today you’re dealing with a person that does not respect the staff or lead with wisdom,” Ashcraft said of Boon.
Several references were made to a letter written to the RSF Association board and delivered to the Association on the afternoon of Feb. 14, signed by a group of community members. The letter alleged that Boon’s actions at the Feb. 6 meeting were inappropriate and disrespectful of the staff.
According to public comments made at the Feb. 20 meeting by speakers who said they were quoting from the letter, the note called for Boon’s dismissal after she had “hijacked” the board’s agenda for her own political reasons. The letter said that Boon was unfair and disrespectful to staff, including Manager Smith, rendering him virtually unable to do his job. The letter also claimed that she “arbitrarily” cut off speakers during public comment and didn’t allow people who disagreed with her to speak.
“That letter is embarrassing and filled with too much fertilizer,” resident Sam Ursini said, remarking that he hasn’t seen any evidence to support the letter’s claims and he is often one of the only members in attendance at the board’s regular meetings.
Boon also addressed the letter’s content.
“Much of the information is inaccurate and unnecessarily personal,” Boon said.
Resident Lisa Bartlett said that Boon had been unjustly defamed, that she was one of the few outstanding board members the Association has had in the last 15 years, calling her intelligent, honest, open and a “class act.” She was upset that Boon’s “courage” was rewarded with “character assassinations of the basest form.”
“Ann is directly responsible for having this membership aware of what’s going on,” resident Kim Eggleston said, referencing her “turning a flashlight on clandestine operations” such as false tax returns.
He said he had tried unsuccessfully to get information from the Association, such as the 15 highest compensated employees, the amount of accrued vacation time of employees and a list of unregistered voters. The Association had not supplied him with that information, leading him to believe that the information was purposely being “hidden and obfuscated.”
“Our Association is not broken,” resident Marie Addario argued, referencing last year’s community-wide survey in which the staff received above-average marks in every category.
The 1 to 2 percent who are dissatisfied, she said, are unhappy and angry and “intend to make our lives miserable and bully our staff.”
Addario said she believes that many of this group’s leaders have an ax to grind because they haven’t been able to be elected to the board, were asked to leave a committee or were denied approval of a project by the Covenant Review Committee (Art Jury) and come together whenever they see an opportunity.
“We will not stand by and let a few naysayers create problems where there are none,” Addario said. “Do not give credibility to these spoilers who continue to harass our staff.”
Resident Marsanne Brammer said she was shocked to be called a “spoiler” because she objects to the Association’s “problematic procedures” and has questions about transparency. She said she would like to see everyone have the information they need with nothing hidden as the Association is tasked with protecting her financial interests.
“The board’s job is not to protect employees of the Association but to protect the members,” Brammer said.
Board member Larry Spitcaufsky said he knows everyone wants information but he doesn’t think people should confuse lack of transparency with priorities.
“It doesn’t mean they are hiding things, they will get the information to you. Staff should have some freedom to prioritize their work, it’s not because they don’t want to get you the information, it’s because they can only do so much,” Spitcaufsky said.
He praised the staff for working so hard, from CFO Steve Comstock being in the office on Sundays and holidays, to Holler having to perform two jobs in Manager Smith’s absence. He said that since Smith has been gone it has become even clearer just how many different hats he wears.
Resident Carol Streeter also spoke out in support of Smith.
“He has always done what is best for the community,” Streeter said. “I hope to see him in his office very soon for the sake of our Covenant community.”