La Jolla Parks & Beaches group seats local pastor as new member, but not without controversy

La Jolla Parks & Beaches members discuss whether to seat the Rev. Tim Seery as a new member during their April 26 meeting.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The seating of a new member to the La Jolla Parks & Beaches group is normally a simple, maybe 90-second process. But when it came to seating the Rev. Tim Seery during the board’s April 26 meeting, there were debates, lengthy discussion and multiple votes.

To be eligible for membership, a candidate must be at least 18; live, work or own property in La Jolla or represent an organization that does business in La Jolla; and attend three meetings in the previous six months. Those who do are put on an eligible list.

Seery, senior pastor of Congregational Church of La Jolla, started attending meetings in October following comments by two board members who raised objections to chalk art supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on the La Jolla Bike Path. Both said the drawings, which they viewed as political expression, should not be in a public place.

Several community members called the comments offensive and demanded the pair’s resignation or removal from the board. One of them, Mary Ellen Morgan, stepped down in February. The other, Marie Hunrichs, is still on the board.

LJP&B President Claudia Baranowski said there was a vacancy on the board after trustee Debbie Beachum stepped down. A reason for her departure was not given.

“We thank Debbie for her service as a board member for well over 10 years. … Rev. Tim Seery is the next person eligible for membership,” Baranowski said.

The Rev. Tim Seery is senior pastor of Congregational Church of La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Tim Seery)

She invited Seery to say a few words about himself and proceed with his seating, but before he could do so, board member Ken Hunrichs (husband of Marie Hunrichs) asked that the vote be postponed until after the board could hear about potential bylaw revisions, “which may include changes that would require us to reduce our membership.” He argued it would be counterproductive to add a member “if we are just going to turn around and figure out a way to reduce our membership.”

The board has been in the process of revising its bylaws since January and formed a working group to propose changes. The first of three revisions, to clean up inconsistent language, was approved in March. The next phase will address whether to impose term limits on board members, and the third phase will be launched if and when the city of San Diego decides LJP&B could become a recognized advisory group.

One of the working group discussions was on whether to reduce the maximum number of board members from its current 20 to 15. However, group members said that decision was months away.

LJP&B trustee Ann Dynes said she was on the bylaws committee and “the subject of reducing the number of members on this board was tossed out. … LJP&B was given a specific waiver to go above the normal recreation [advisory group] number to 20 members. So we are currently at 20 [members maximum]. If we choose to go to 15, which is a model for some advisory boards, it would be a long and complicated conversation. … To propose postponing filling the vacancy because we might shrink in six months is premature.”

Should the board decide to reduce its membership, it likely would do so by attrition — as members step down, new ones would not be seated until the number gets to 15.

Trustee John Leek said dropping to 15 members “needs to happen” and echoed the request to hear from the bylaws committee before voting on Seery.

Working group chairwoman Barbara Dunbar said: “There are a number of issues that need to be addressed, but amending the bylaws is a time-consuming process. We don’t anticipate it going quickly. We want to do this carefully, thoughtfully and with a lot of reviews. To that end, we will obtain input about membership from the entire board via a survey to determine which issues we need to address and in what order. We are absolutely nowhere near making any decision, and we most definitely want full input from the entire board.”

Ken Hunrichs said later that in the past, Seery had made “derogatory comments toward board members and the board itself” and “it appears we are going in the direction of seeking recognition from the city for our advisory status and making that official. … Back in January, Mr. Seery said in a [Zoom] chat comment that this board should never have official status.”

Hunrichs asked whether Seery still feels that way.

“The comment you referenced was after a comment was made by one of the board members suggesting future bylaws should shut out anyone that critiques the board publicly,” Seery said. “Boards with city recognition should allow for diversity of opinion, not boards that create qualifications for membership that cut out anyone that has ever critiqued it before. If that was the case, no one would be allowed to run for Congress or any other public roles.”

He said the comment was made “before certain things transpired that were steps toward healing.”

“I would never seek to sabotage anything that I am a part of,” he said.

Seery said he is originally from Montana and moved to La Jolla four years ago to helm the Congregational Church.

As a progressive minister, nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone restate the culturally ubiquitous phrase “Keep politics out of the pulpit.”

“When I moved here, beaches became my life,” he said. “We live in a very special place, and our public parks and beaches are assets that belong to all of us.”

Speaking to the board’s Black Lives Matter controversy, he said he was “encouraged by the small steps taken toward healing,” such as LJP&B’s creation of a statement of values.

“Ultimately, I believe representation matters,” he said. “Healing comes when everyone feels their voice is represented at the table. Healing is what I want to work toward. I believe boards are also stronger when they have a diversity of generational perspectives present. I offer myself for service alongside you because I believe not only our parks and beaches, but our whole city, benefits when everyone feels represented by someone. I seek to do this with integrity and with an eye to serving our parks and beaches and all those who treasure them.”

Leek asked that the vote on Seery’s appointment be postponed “for at least a month” because “we don’t have enough information to proceed … we don’t know what the bylaws committee is going to come up with.”

Trustee Jane Reldan called the requested postponement “a blatant attempt to prevent Rev. Tim Seery from getting on the board.”

A motion to postpone the vote failed 10-5, with three abstentions.

A vote to seat Seery passed 12-2, with four abstentions. The Hunrichses objected because “we should not be adding to the board at this point,” Ken Hunrichs said. Phyllis and Stan Minick abstained because they said they did not hear the entire discussion. Sally Miller abstained, saying, “I don’t know him, so I can’t give an opinion.” Leek abstained because “I have no choice … there will be repercussions if I do anything else.”

After the meeting, Seery told the La Jolla Light: “I look forward to representing all La Jollans on LJP&B, including those who spoke out against injustice and demanded accountability. I believe in being part of the solution and I am encouraged by the board’s vote to include me as a member. I hope that my presence at the table will be a step toward growth and healing for everyone. I am grateful to LJP&B for their support and I think their openness to my membership demonstrates that we are moving in a positive direction.” ◆