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|Santa Monica's Wilmont Controversy Drags On|
By Jason Islas
June 20, 2012 -- “Where's Marcia?” asked one member of the crowd gathered in the foyer of Santa Monica's Ken Edwards Center.
“She can't still be in the hospital," said another. "My mother was only in the hospital for two days after she broke her hip.”
The Marcia in question was Marcia Carter, the 84-year-old membership director of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition (Wilmont).
About 15 residents of the neighborhood sat outside an empty, locked conference room in the Ken Edwards Center where the Wilmont Board was supposed to have held a board meeting Monday.
That is, until a few hours before, when an e-mail went out announcing the meeting had been canceled, dashing hopes that Monday would put an end to a controversy that has plagued the neighborhood organization for almost two weeks.
Carter broke her hip on the eve of Wilmont's annual meeting June 9 -- the meeting at which, according to the organization's bylaws, new members of the board are elected. And while the election was held, ten days later and almost two weeks after Carter suffered her injury, the votes remain uncounted.
“Can someone step in and stop this?” asked a resident Monday night, referring to what people called “stalling tactics” on the part of the current Wilmont Board.
“Maybe the Jimmy Carter Institute,” someone offered, referring to the organization that supervises elections around the world to help facilitate fair democratic practices.
The 57 ballots cast in the June 9 election are in a sealed "ballot box" little larger than a shoebox. Until Wilmont co-chair Albin Gieclicz went out of town last week, that ballot box remained in his possession.
“If you have a voting box, that box is locked and seals are placed on it,” said Jeffery Lewis, professor of Political Science at UCLA.
That box, he said, is then given to “someone who is regarded as having a high degree of fiduciary responsibility, like a sheriff.”
Or in this case, Friends of Sunset Park President Zina Josephs.
“Albin Gielicz had the sealed ballot box at the close of the June 9 Wilmont meeting,” said Josephs.
“As he was planning to go out of town this week, Albin and Jeanne Dodson asked if I would keep the sealed ballot box until a meeting is arranged to count the ballots. I agreed.”
Although all agree the ballot box is in safe hands, the votes cannot be counted until Wilmont officials can access the membership list that has been locked inside Carter's Community Corporation Apartment since the octogenarian was hospitalized.
According to Dr. Benjamin Bangs, a joint replacement surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center, a hospital stay for someone Carter's age is about two to three days. Although, Bangs added, some patients, depending on their personal comfort levels, stay in the recovery ward of the hospital for as long as a month.
According to Dodson, it shouldn't matter where Carter is.
“Wilmont (officials) can get into the apartment whenever they want,” she said.
Since Carter lives in a Community Corp building, her landlord can let friends access her apartment with the tenant's written permission, Dodson said.
She added that Wilmont officials have written permission from Carter.
Wilmont Chair Valerie Griffin, who unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the June 9 election, and co-chair Gieclicz, who ran the meeting to avert a "coup," were unavailable for comment.
The ballots listed 11 new candidates running for a spot on the board. Most of them were spurred to action after the Wilmont Board endorsed the Miramar redevelopment project.
The project would add as many as 120 condominiums in three new buildings that would replace the two existing main buildings at the nearly 90-year-old hotel at the southwestern edge of the Wilmont neighborhood.
Members placed their ballots in envelopes, sealed them and wrote their names, addresses, and telephone numbers on the outside.
They then placed the envelopes in the ballot box that was taped shut and the candidates, along with observers, signed the tape to assure that the votes would be secure until they could be counted.
At the meeting Monday night, many had hoped the votes would be counted.
One attendee noted that if the process drags on much longer, it will have taken the neighborhood group as long to count 57 votes as it will have taken the County of Los Angeles to count several hundred thousand votes cast in the June 5 primary.
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