Architect Michael Morton surprises planning group, declines ‘back-of-the bus’ trustee seat
La Jolla architect Michael Morton took members of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) board of directors by surprise last week when he declined to take a seat on the board, as recommended by city officials and agreed upon by LJCPA trustees Oct. 29 to settle his challenge to the group’s March 2014 election.
The challenge was filed after termed-out LJCPA board members Joe LaCava and Jim Fitzgerald were elected to third terms, while a new candidate receiving the fewest votes, Morton, did not receive a seat (read previous coverage of the eight-month saga at lajollalight.com). Per City Council Policy 600-24, which governs the city’s planning groups, new candidates receive priority over termed-out candidates, although there is some leeway in the LJCPA bylaws for trustees to have a third term when there is a shortage of qualified candidates and the termed-out candidates receive more than two-thirds of the vote. The LJCPA did not initially have enough candidates for the seats available, until three write-in candidates — each receiving more votes than Morton — threw their hats in the ring.
After LaCava was seated and elected board president (Fitzgerald stepped down) the city opined that Morton should have received the remaining year of a recently departed board member’s term, which LJCPA trustees disputed. In the end, a compromise to seat Morton for the remaining five months of the term was brokered between the LJCPA executive committee and the city, which had initially threatened to strip the LJCPA of its legal indemnification and status as La Jolla’s recognized planning group.
Morton was in attendance during the special meeting Oct. 29 when both general LJCPA members and trustees voted to accept the compromise, although he did not convey displeasure with the situation until the LJCPA’s regular Nov. 6 meeting.
Noting that he served on the LJCPA board nearly a decade ago, when the group faced a similar challenge questioning its inclusiveness, Morton argued that such problems still persist.
“It is now November and 75 percent of my duly elected term has vanished because of obstruction tactics (and) poor leadership by the (LJCPA) trustees,” Morton said during the meeting, noting he believes five trustees violated policy 600-24 and LJCPA bylaws and engaged in “collective concurrence” by meeting outside the board and publishing a letter in La Jolla Light opining that the LJCPA should not adopt the city’s election challenge remedy. (One of those five trustees, Rob Whittemore, resigned from the board in protest Oct. 29 after the LJCPA agreed to seat Morton).
“The political compromise approved is only for a second-class, back-of-the-bus seat,” Morton said. “This would only be a partial remedy to gloss over fundamental errors made by the LJCPA. … Unfortunately, this means the challenge to the March 2014 election will continue.”
However, Karen Bucey, the City of San Diego’s new senior planner for La Jolla, later told La Jolla Light, “The bylaw amendment revision to authorize the 19th seat and offer to seat Mr. Morton concludes the last remaining issue related to the March 2014 election. The LJCPA may or may not opt to fill the vacancy for the remaining five months of (Morton’s) term. The seat will no longer exist after April 1, 2015.” LaCava said the vacancy left by Whittemore’s resignation will be filled during the LJCPA’s March election.
In his statement, Morton urged others concerned about “fair play and unbiased public reviews of projects” to attend LJCPA meetings, run for a seat on the LJCPA board of directors and “support like-minded candidates for the March 2015 elections.”
The LJCPA has formed a trustee ad hoc committee to recommend changes to the group’s bylaws that would clear up any gray areas in the group’s election procedures. City Council President Pro Tem and LJCPA general member Sherri Lightner (of La Jolla) has also promised better oversight of future elections, including the group’s March 2015 election.
In order to run for a seat on the board, candidates must attend three LJCPA meetings in the year prior to the election. LaJollaCPA.org