The MA’s Election Snafu

The Ever Beleaguered Montecito Association Gets No Love

The Montecito Association’s stars must be crossed, because no matter what they do, they continue to be beleaguered, battered, and bewildered. No sooner did they crawl out from a robust Ty Warner PR flack-attack, than they found themselves knee deep a self-inflicted election snafu.

The Association normally takes the annual December board elections seriously, dedicating one-quarter of their by-laws to defining the laborious and exacting process. This earnest approach comes because this is the only opportunity for general members to have voice on who sits this powerful Montecito homeowners association lobby.

However, this year, no doubt because they were busy swatting at Tys, the Association fumbled the elections. Last week, some 1,050 members received an incomplete and illegal ballot. It was not only missing the full slate of nominees, but it also neglected to include the candidate’s biographies, the voting instructions, and the required annual meeting posting.

Upon receipt, Montecito, which likes consistency, went into a tailspin. “I just crumpled it up and threw it away,” said one society maven, referring to her baffling Association ballot. A past Association president simply rolled his eyes and sighed, “What has happened to our Association?”

Montecito Association Secretary Richard Shaikewitz (pictured making wine), who for the past three years has been charged with election supervision, became equally befuddled. montecito%20winemaker.jpg “No one asked me to do anything,” he stammered upon hearing about the illegal ballot. Declining to place blame he said, “It was just a mistake,” and he scurried off to do a by-laws check and find a remedy for the suffrage slip.

By the Association’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, December 12, Shaikewitz (who was recently elected board of the Montecito Water District) announced his solution: mail a new, corrected ballot to members, void any ballots already received, and switch election date from December 15 to January 3.

Shaikewitz explained that the executive committee voted on behalf of the board to accept the election date change, even though Association President Bob Collector had just minutes before reported that the executive committee took no action during the month. (Shaikewitz later said that Collector was referring to the regular executive board meeting, not a “special” one convened for the election. Hmm.) The 16 board members (including two past presidents) sat mute as Shaikewitz maneuvered through the parliamentary quagmire, perhaps gaining new respect for the troubles of their volunteer board colleagues over the Sheriff’s Council.

In the audience and puzzled by the public display of by-law dementia were two board nominees listed on the dubious ballot. mindy%20denison%20saks.jpg Jim Wolfe, from Balance Bar, and Mindy Denison (pictured as chair of Montecito Beautification Day 2006), a veep of Saks, left perplexed but still willing to participate. Providing their election is not challenged, they will bravely be joining the current beleaguered board in January.

They will be joined by newcomer Andy Arnold, of AOL, and MA re-treads Barry Siegel (seven-year vet), Jack Overall (eight-year vet) , and Diane Pannkuk (10-year vet). Hugh Boss and Jean von Wittenburg gain retirement after six years of service, while Susan Keller and Harry Kolb hollered “uncle” after only three years in the hot seats and declined re-nomination.

The election results will be announced at the MA annual meeting scheduled for January 9 and each new board member will take their seats and will get their welcome gift — a now well-thumbed set of Montecito Association by-laws!

BARK ‘N’ BITE: Possibly causing the Montecito Association’s uncharacteristic shy demeanor at Tuesday’s meeting was stage fright, caused by the large audience who attended the December meeting. The hall seats were filled to capacity, mostly by members of a new group called The Voices of Montecito. Led by community activist Mary Belle Snow, the group has announced its intention to watchdog the actions of the Montecito Association and document what they may see as “abuse of power.”

Over a dozen VoM members, most recognizable from their previous pulpit stands in support of Ty Warner’s projects, turned up at the meeting and sat bemused as the Association negotiated its maze of election missteps. Earlier in the week, VoM gave thought to producing an alternate slate for the Association board, but they abandoned the idea when, after polling dozens of citizens, they found few takers.

They chose instead to use Tuesday’s Association meeting to pepper the wary and weary Association board with questions. They asked the board to explain its function, its role in land use decisions, its perceived “stalling” tactics, its reasoning, its structure, its culture, and its policies and politics.

MA president Bob Collector patiently and thoroughly answered questions. In the end, the VoM’s bark was quelled and the group departed with wagging tails, saying they appreciated the opportunity for community input and dialogue.

FAREWELL LAND USE COMMITTEE? In an ironically well-timed Montecito Association re-organization report, Diane Pannkuk, past president, gave a Tuesday MA presentation that may spell the death knell for the historic Montecito Association Land Use Committee.

In an attempt to streamline MA and make it less of a burden in the land use course, she said the Land Use committee might have its last meeting on January 2. Pannkuk’s concept is to replace the 13-member committee with small study pods who go to the applicant and report their land use findings directly to the Montecito Association Board of Directors.

Since the county created the Montecito Planning Commission, the MA’s Land Use Committee, which served as the front line for community protection for decades, has floundered in duplicative function. Currently, an applicant is invited to present a project to the Association’s Land Use Committee, who in turn makes a recommendation to the Montecito Association Board for action. Often the board wants to actually see the project themselves before voting, so the applicant steps up for another presentation.

Meanwhile, at the county level, an applicant may be required to visit the Montecito Board of Architectural Review and ultimately they have to go to the Montecito Planning Commission for plan a decision.

“Too much!” cries the applicant and MA has come around to agree.

When Westmont put their foot down and refused to present their massive plan to the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee, a small team visited the college to investigate the project and they in turn made recommendations to the MA board. In spite of MA’s whining, the process worked very effectively — MA made a comment and the applicant was less burdened.

Now Pannkuk suggests this format should be adopted as the norm, thereby eliminating the current panel-member set up and nixing, as well, the Land Use Committee’s monthly meetings. No action was taken at their December meeting, but the board was asked to ponder the idea and be ready for action after their January retreat.

As venerable, feared and controversial as the Montecito Land Use Committee once was, there will be tears of sorrow and joy when the word of its demise hits Montecito’s land use interested ears!

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