By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Rancho Bernardo Planning Board’s attempt to remove member Robin Kaufman was again tabled, this time after a mayor’s representative said the board might be decertified if it proceeded.
Steve Hadley, deputy director of open government and part of Mayor Bob Filner’s staff, said he was speaking on Filner’s behalf when notifying the board at the Jan. 23 meeting that “the mayor is considering decertifying this committee” due to Brown Act violations. The act revolves around open meeting laws.
The board has been trying to oust Kaufman for twice asking Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation not give the board a grant because it was not complying with its rules. Some board members said she “undermined” the volunteer group.
Chairwoman Teri Denlinger requested Kaufman’s resignation in November. When she refused, the board planned to vote on removal in December, but that was tabled after Kaufman requested a continuance to “investigate” the allegations and said there could be legal repercussions for the board and its members if the continuance was not granted. After board officers met with her in early January — when she reportedly admitted to the allegations — the removal vote was planned for Jan. 23.
Hadley told the board that last June they agreed to appoint a grant liaison, not apply for a grant, so they violated the Brown Act. He called Kaufman approaching the foundation a “good faith” action “for sharing what should have been shared,” adding the attempted removal is “retaliation on a whistle blower.”
Hadley said if the board wants Kaufman off “you have to find another reason.”
“I take it as a threat ... I find that very disturbing,” Denlinger said.
Member Wolfie Pores said it is “despicable” for the mayor to send a representative to tell the board to vote a certain way.
Member John Kowalski questioned Filner’s right to get involved, since the incidents occurred while Mayor Jerry Sanders was in office.
“I hoped to get this issue resolved tonight .. but what Steve said about the mayor was very concerning,” said member Matt Stockton. He said the board should request a City Attorney’s representative come to the next meeting to give a legal opinion.
Vice Chairwoman Estelle Wolf reiterated the removal attempt and problems throughout the last year have nothing to do with “personal issues.” She added the mayor’s office should have contacted the board to learn its side before sending a representative to speak at the meeting.
“I don’t like being threatened,” member Dick Katz said. “This is a horrible thing. We do not want to eliminate somebody from a position, but also not (have someone) undermining the group. When it makes decisions, you stick by the group.”
Member Peter Tereschuck said the board “does not have sufficient information to make the right decision,” but expressed concern over Kaufman going behind the board, adding she was not speaking as a private citizen, but a board member.
Member Lou Dell’Angela said Denlinger and Wolf are “totally out of line” for pursuing Kaufman’s removal, accusing them of violating the Brown Act several times, but never being brought up on their actions.
“Yes, this is a personal issue,” Dell’Angela said, adding he wants the board “to put this ugly negativity behind us,” especially since Kaufman did not prevent the board from receiving the $1,000 grant.
Kaufman called the proceedings “a violation of my civil rights.”
Member Joe Dirks said Hadley’s statement was “not a threat, (just statement of) truth or consequence. Do the right thing or see what happens.”
Kaufman detailed how the board did not follow proper procedure in the removal process, citing board bylaws. She said she contacted the foundation because the board did not vote on the grant application and praised her years of efforts and involvement in the board.
“It’s certain people who make the problems,” she said. “Those who try to adhere to the rules and regulations are picked on.”
Jerry Sack — who sits on the Rancho Bernardo Community Council, of which Kaufman is president — asked the board not to remove Kaufman and instead hold a team building workshop.
“Some might be intimidated, or not like Ms. Kaufman’s extremely high degree of motivation and her ‘lead, follow or get out the way’ approach, as a volunteer civic leader, to accomplish the needed and required results to benefit our community,” Sack said. “This is not a reason to remove her ... as she still has much to continue to offer the Rancho Bernardo Planning Board and to our community.”
Sally Grigoriev, who sits on the Rancho Bernardo Recreation Council with Kaufman, spoke of her high involvement with community activities and said it would be “a huge loss” if she was removed, calling her “a good influence on the community.”
Jean Davis, a fellow RB Recreation Council member, called her “a strong asset” and “valuable resource.”
“I appreciate all your comments, but if you sat where some of us are sitting you would not feel this to be a wonderful experience,” Denlinger said, adding she received numerous calls supporting removal by some in the community. While acknowledging Kaufman has been beneficial to other community groups, she said the board has not had a similar experience, calling her “obstructive in nature.”
Denlinger added, “We all know the situation more so than anyone here,” in reference to the not-typical standing room only audience of around two dozen. “It’s nice you showed up tonight, but you’re not here to see what goes on at the planning board meetings. It is argumentative.”
The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 in the Club 21 room at RB Swim & Tennis Club, 16955 Bernardo Oaks Drive.