By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Rancho Bernardo Planning Board members voted on Robin Kaufman’s removal Tuesday night, but whether she retained her seat was unclear when the meeting adjourned.
By signed ballot, nine members voted Kaufman should be ousted from the board, four voted no and two abstained. But members could not decide if the two-thirds needed for removal referred to the entire membership of 17, the 15 members present or 13 who indicated a preference.
Kaufman said the bylaws require two-thirds of the membership, which means 12 yes votes for removal. Chairwoman Teri Denlinger said it is two-thirds of those present, therefore 10 votes, but with the two abstentions some members said that might bring the required number of votes down to nine.
Denlinger said the vote tally would be forwarded to Senior City Planner Brian Schoenfisch on Wednesday for clarification.
Prior to the vote, Kaufman again said she did not violate board bylaws by contacting the Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation last fall, requesting it not give a community grant to the board last November due to a Brown Act violation by the board. The act is the state’s open meeting law.
According to Kaufman, last June the board voted on appointing Vicki Touchstone as a grant liaison, not to apply for the $1,000 grant that was received. Board members Jeannie Foulkrod and Dick Katz said it was understood or implied that Touchstone was to apply for the grant on the board’s behalf based upon discussion during the June meeting. Denlinger said in 2006 and 2007 the board applied for grants without a vote.
Member Fred Gahm called Touchstone’s action “good initiative” and said if there was a problem the board could have ratified the application, due in September, the following month.
Denlinger requested Kaufman’s resignation at the November meeting after foundation members told her about Kaufman’s two contacts with them, an action Denlinger said undermined the board by going behind its back. In December and January the board attempted to vote on Kaufman’s removal, but technicalities prevented a vote until Tuesday’s meeting, a rescheduled gathering after the original February meeting was canceled.
“We were in non-compliance,” Kaufman said in her defense. “We can’t keep on doing things willy-nilly … (we must) stay consistent. … If we’re to follow rules, then follow the rules all the time.”
Denlinger said Kaufman’s reasoning did not excuse her contacting the foundation without the board’s knowledge. Kaufman said she could not notify the board because some fellow members do not like her.
Five residents, at least three of whom are on the RB Community Council Kaufman leads, voiced support for her, praising her volunteerism and leadership. Resident Roberta Mikles, however, said they were “missing the point. When someone goes outside the board … without letting the board know, that is not OK.”
Katz, a former community council member, told the audience her actions have been “horrible” and “consistent” at the planning board, adding “she acts one way with you and a different way with us.”
Member Peter Tereschuck called Kaufman’s actions “undermining and deception” adding her “intent was malicious,” aimed at embarrassing the board’s leadership.
Member Richard House said the situation was “handled very poorly. I can never condone what Robin did and wish she came forth … (with) a little bit of contrition.”
Member John Kowalski also said it “could have been handled better,” adding the entire situation has negatively impacted the board’s credibility and respect among city officials.
“If Robin admitted she made a mistake and apologized there would be no reason for her to be off the board,” said member Wolfie Pores.
Member Lou Dell’Angela called removal “too harsh” a penalty and “unjustified,” echoing Kaufman’s position that the board has been too loose with the rules. “We need to put this past us and build bridges.”
Member Joe Dirks, who also faced a recent removal vote until he and board leaders resolved the issue, announced he would abstain because the issue came down to freedom of speech, adding, “Robin’s and my civil rights have not been respected.”
In a related matter, after much discussion, the board decided to invite Deputy Director of Open Government Steven Hadley to clarify his statements made at the January meeting about the mayor considering decertification of the board if it removed Kaufman. Many members said they felt threatened and bullied by Hadley and some questioned if his action was not a Brown Act violation since the board received nothing in writing, as City Council policy requires.