Updated 11:11 p.m. Wednesday.
The Rancho Bernardo Planning Board, in a contentious meeting on Wednesday, again put off a vote to remove one of its members after a representative from the mayor’s office said moving forward could lead to the board being decertified, though a spokeswoman later said that person was not authorized to speak on the mayor's behalf.
The board had been considering removing longtime member Robin Kaufman after she asked the Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation not to award the board a grant because it was not complying with city and state open meeting laws, which some considered inappropriate at best and sabotage at worst. But that vote, initially set for last month, was stayed in December amid concerns that Kaufman had not been afforded due process.
Then came Wednesday’s meeting, where Steve Hadley, the deputy director of open government in Mayor Bob Filner’s office, said he brought a message of concern from the mayor.
“The mayor is considering decertifying—asking the council to decertify—this committee,” Hadley said, citing a concern that the board was not following the Brown Act.
The Planning Board is subject to both city and state open meeting regulations, and is governed by City Council policy and its own bylaws. Acting outside of these bounds puts the board at risk of losing its indemnification.
The surprise charge from Hadley was immediately met with opposition from several board members.
“It’s taken as a threat and I find that very disturbing,” Chairwoman Teri Denlinger said, a sentiment echoed by multiple board members.
But when Patch reached out to Filner’s press secretary, Lena Lewis, by text and email during the meeting to confirm Hadley’s message, the spokeswoman distanced the mayor’s office from his remarks.
“He was not authorized to speak for the Mayor. The Mayor has not been briefed on this issue,” Lewis said in an email. When asked after the meeting why he said he was speaking on behalf of the mayor, Hadley would not comment further.
Hadley’s message prompted the board to vote to table a decision on removing Kaufman, but only after several people came forward to speak on her behalf. The meetings are typically lightly attended, but Wednesday’s audience included about a couple dozen people.
“Nice of you to show up tonight, but you have not been here to see what goes on at this Planning Board meeting,” Denlinger quipped at the largely pro-Kaufman crowd, after accusing the board member of always having an “obstructive” attitude.
But Wednesday’s meeting often fell into the contentious patterns of meetings past, with members frequently interrupting each other and making snide comments. At several points, audience members called out objecting to Denlinger’s frequent interruptions of Kaufman and others speaking on her behalf.
Several audience members later remarked that the infighting at Wednesday’s meeting may have scared off some in the crowd who were considering joining the board.
Board member Estelle Wolf, who was one of those to lobby a complaint about Kaufman’s actions on the grant, said the dismissal vote had “nothing to do with personal agendas, personal issues, personal opinions or personal anything.”
Board member Dick Katz said the group members should not be working against each other.
“Nobody wants to eliminate somebody from a position, but they also should not be undermining the group,” he said. “When the group makes a decision, you stick by the group.”
Kaufman, who was allotted 10 minutes to defend herself, argued that she had a right to speak the foundation on her own behalf as a member of the community. She also presented a series of documents to argue, as Hadley did, that the board had not followed the Brown Act in bringing forward the grant application.
Kaufman’s objections did not stop the foundation from awarding the group the grant. Board member Lou Dell’Angela said because she didn’t end up hurting the group, and for the sake of group unity, the board should move on considering how much Kaufman has contributed over the years.
“What we need to do is stop picking on each other,” Dell’Angela said. “Let’s get busy trying to put this group together.”
Stay tuned for updates.