The Veterans Memorial Building — situated on prime West Beach real estate along Cabrillo Boulevard — has long been run by a council of inactive servicemen who have proved they will fight until the bitter end.
In December, the Board of Supervisors all but yanked managing powers from the Veterans Coordinating Council (VCC) after years of unsatisfactory audits, internal power struggles, and complaints to county officials. The supervisors instructed the county’s General Services department to draft an administration plan to be ready when the council’s management contract expires in June.
However, the council — established in 1998 and comprising members who represent close to a dozen veterans’ organizations throughout Santa Barbara County — may now opt out of its contract several months early, which would require the county to step in and quickly devise a plan to keep the building open until a long-term solution is put in place.
Some of the conflict that has plagued the veterans council for years was voiced during an emergency meeting last Wednesday. One hot topic concerned former longtime building manager Marge Beavers, who was scheduled to appear before state labor commissioners on Friday. In July, 86-year-old Beavers was allegedly offered an approximately $15,000 severance package to step down from her position as building operator, which she had held for 16 years. But she refused the money and instead filed a claim against the council for not receiving commission payments for the events she booked at the memorial building. The council is funded by rental revenue — from weddings, quinceañeras, and other events — and per its contract, does not have to pay rent at the county-owned facility. (State law requires all counties to have a building designated for veterans’ use.)
Per Friday’s settlement, Beavers received an unknown amount of money (the specifics are protected by confidentiality laws) and was given back her job (starting February 1) as building manager — a position that two people have held since she was fired in July. Given the transitory nature of the council and the county, it is unclear how long she’ll hold that position. After Friday’s labor board conference, attorney Steve Penner — who stepped down from his position as VCC chair earlier this month — said he utilized “creative” measures to reach an agreement that left everyone happy.
John and Hazel Blankenship were not present at Wednesday’s council meeting. They entered the picture in 2003 with plans to create a World War II museum at the property, but those plans were largely axed in 2012 when the large, multiroom structure was deemed a historical site built on Chumash remains. But the fear over a potential museum that would “glorify war” persisted for the past two years among members of the “old guard,” which led to contentious monthly meeting and a revised plan. The Blankenships have shifted their efforts to a memorial sculpture at the Santa Barbara Airport.
At the regular coordinating council meeting this Wednesday, councilmembers will vote on whether or not to request to terminate their contract with the county. After last week’s meeting, ending the contract early seemed all but official, but Beavers’s reinstatement may change matters yet again.