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La Jolla Parks & Beaches deemed not a city advisory group; board approves statement of values

Members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board discuss its advisory group status during its Jan. 25 meeting online.
(Courtesy)

Although it is considered a “valuable support” system to the city of San Diego, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches committee is not, it turns out, a recognized advisory group to the city.

The group’s departing president, Ann Dynes, provided an update at its Jan. 25 meeting online.

She explained that the city sought the counsel of the city attorney and Parks & Recreation Department in the fall after two board members — Mary Ellen Morgan and Marie Hunrichs — made controversial comments about the Black Lives Matter movement and the city’s decision not to remove chalk writings in support of the movement on the Fay Avenue Bike Path.

After members of the public called for the removal of Morgan and Hunrichs from the board, citing stipulations in the current bylaws, Dynes reached out to the city concerning its advisory group status and whether a bylaw violation had occurred, and learned “we are not an advisory board.”

She cited a letter from Parks & Recreation Department Director Andy Field that recognized “the valuable support that La Jolla Parks & Beaches Inc. members provided to the city’s park system and the Parks & Recreation Department over the last 11 years” but found that LJPB is “not a traditional recreation advisory group.”

“LJPB bylaws reference a 2016 special use permit with the city. We have determined that the city did not issue a SUP to LJPB and did not approve LJPB’s 2016 bylaws,” the letter states. “At that time, it was determined that LJPB is an independent nonprofit organization that is outside of the department’s span of control.

“Therefore … neither I nor the city attorney’s office can offer legal opinions or advice on the operation of your organization. We recommend that LJPB consult with its own attorney regarding all legal issues, including the questions posed above. The city is concerned that the LJPB’s bylaws reference a SUP that does not exist and therefore does not correctly describe its relationship with the city. We recommend that LJPB address these issues. We are happy to discuss any proposed new bylaws that relate to LJPB’s relationship with the city.”

Dynes added that the board has been operating under its bylaws that were approved in 2016, “which are clearly inappropriate. We may want to revoke those and go back to the 2011 bylaws.”

She formed a working group to look at whether to revoke or amend the current bylaws.

Morgan said she was “of the impression” since she joined the board that it was an advisory committee, “which made me feel comfortable being on this board because the city indemnified us.” She said the board should consider increasing its insurance policy given that it carries out projects on city property.

Dynes responded that “I think from a corporate standpoint we are in good order. I think from an advisory standpoint we are in good enough order. We have a very vibrant working relationship with the city; whether there are things we can do to comply [with current city code] is what we need to have a conversation [about]. I don’t think there is anything immediately out of order.”

Calls for removal continue

Without guidance from the city as to how to proceed with whether to remove Morgan and Hunrichs from the board, Dynes asked for a motion to terminate their membership to put on next month’s board agenda.

None was made.

“In which case we will move on,” Dynes said.

However, during the meeting’s public comment period, several people said they would not stop calling for the pair’s removal.

“On the heels of George Floyd’s murder last year, and while we were in the midst of a worldwide social movement, two members of your board made disparaging comments about the Black Lives Matter movement,” Jon Wiggins said. “The rest of you looked on and did nothing. … It’s obviously clear that everyone is OK with your fellow members’ racist remarks, otherwise one of you would have put forward a motion to remove [them].”

Courtney Marshall said she was “thoroughly disappointed at the board’s lack of response to concerns raised by community members.”

Catherine Cox added that “we are going to continue to talk about these comments until something happens. … Remove these two members because it is the right thing to do and remove them because racism is not OK.”

Statement of values

Board members have asserted that the current bylaws do not provide a mechanism to remove the members for their comments. The bylaws state that members “shall not discriminate or permit discrimination in any manner against any person” when it comes to hiring and retention of employees and contractors.

As such, the board decided late last year to draft a statement of values that would provide a way to remove members for acting in a manner that violates the terms of the statement.

A working group to draft the statement is helmed by Barbara Dunbar, who presented the final document Jan. 25 and moved for its approval. “It becomes a corporate working document; it won’t be an addendum to the bylaws but a document that needs to be followed,” she said.

It states, among other things: “Affirming their privilege to exercise First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, LJPB members also serve with respect, concern and courtesy in their dealings with the public and with one another. They have the requisite skills needed for constructive communications and participation on a public council [board], including considering diverse points of view in deciding what is in the best interests of the community of La Jolla.

“Any member found by the council, by a preponderance of the evidence, to be in violation of this Statement of Mission and Values of La Jolla Parks & Beaches may be removed from the council by two-thirds vote of the council and, if required, confirmation by the department director.”

A motion to adopt the statement of values passed 14-2, with Morgan objecting because she felt the timing was inappropriate given ongoing discussion of amending the bylaws. Member Dan Allen also objected, without comment.

Officers election

Of some controversy was Hunrichs’ inclusion in a slate of board officers up for election. A nominating committee put forward Claudia Baranowski for president, Bob Evans for vice president and Hunrichs for corresponding secretary. There were two candidates for recording secretary: Dynes and John Leek.

Board member Jane Reldan called Hunrichs’ inclusion “a slap in the face to the community” and abstained from voting.

Trustee Patrick Ahern said he was “torn” about whether to vote for Hunrichs, noting “the political situation, but no one else is running for this.” He also said Hunrichs “meant no harm” with her statements, and abstained from voting.

Others said they agreed with Ahern’s sentiment but voted for Hunrichs.

Hunrichs was elected corresponding secretary, 13-1, with trustee Brenda Fake opposing because she “doesn’t know Marie.”

Dynes was elected recording secretary, 9-7.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, online. Learn more at lajollaparksbeaches.org.