Roiling waters in Oakmont as staff and board president resign
There’s nothing retiring about the Oakmont senior community lately as multiple mini-dramas have resulted in a split in the community, resignations of Oakmont management staff and attorney, the recent stepping down of the president of Oakmont’s governing body as well as its treasurer, and three volunteer editors of the Oakmont News quitting after charging censorship.
Much of the bad feelings that have resulted in the recent upheaval can be traced back a few years to a longstanding dispute over the building of pickleball courts, an increasingly popular sport in retirement communities. A previous board of directors of the Oakmont Village Association (OVA) had worked on a pickleball project for three years, and entered into a $310,000 construction contract for new courts near the Berger Center.
A board election in March changed all that, though, as a slate of three candidates opposed to the expense of the pickleball facility won seats on the board, joining an already sitting political ally and creating a majority on the 7-member panel.
Ground had just been broken on the project when the new OVA board instructed the construction company to cease work, stopping everything dead in its tracks. Soon after, the OVA board, at an April 18 meeting, voted 5-2 to officially terminate the contract.
Then the great unraveling began.
Stoked by bitter exchanges on a social media site popular with Oakmonters, NextDoor Oakmont Village, the community debate over the new board was ripped open for all to see.
While some would praise the new board for exerting fiscal responsibility and blamed the increased vitriol on disgruntled pickleball supporters, others said some on the new board were getting too involved with the day to day operations of Oakmont staff, and making unilateral decisions to the detriment of Oakmont.
Then Oakmont management staff started to resign, starting with technology employee Cat Cajarski who left at the end of June, blaming the new board for, “Their constant micromanaging, condescending behavior, lack of communication, transparency, and trust…”
The OVA’s longtime attorney resigned, Malcom Manwell of Santa Rosa based Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller and Moskowitz.
Manwell did not respond to an email inquiring the reason for his resignation. The OVA responded to the same question with a “no comment” due to attorney/client privilege.
Cassie Turner, the OVA manager, resigned soon after that. In a July 14 article online in the Oakmont News, a twice a month publication put out under the auspices of the OVA, Turner was quoted as saying she resigned due to an, “insurmountable lack of collaboration and a high degree of exclusion” by the OVA board. Turner often publicly butted heads with some of the new board members, in particular board president Ellen Leznik.
The official OVA response to Turner’s resignation was that they were not at liberty to discuss the personnel matter, but said that Turner left the office in mid-July, and would be paid through Aug. 15. Turner had 2 years to go on her contract.
The Oakmont News article caused some consternation among some members of the OVA board. The paper, mostly a newsletter with news and information about the many club activities in Oakmont, increased their news and feature writing five years ago when three volunteer editors with years of journalistic experience came on board. The paper also has a number of other volunteer writers and photographers.
After the Turner article first appeared, OVA board vice-president Ken Heyman sent an email to the editors expressing his concern that since the article discussed a personnel issue, the OVA may have legal exposure.
Marty Thompson, the editor who wrote the story, said Heyman also told them that future stories would need to be reviewed by the board before publication.
Thompson, a four-decade veteran of the Associated Press before retiring to Oakmont, said he and other editors felt they couldn’t work under Heyman’s conditions and that it, “amounted to censorship and we considered ourselves fired.” As of press time, Thompson and the others have not returned to the Oakmont News.
All of this set the table for an explosive July 18 OVA Board meeting, attracting over 200 people into the Berger Center, many of whom wanted to find out what exactly was going on.
That meeting started out rocky as board president Leznik, who had become a lightening rod in the community, said the board was working hard to address important issues in Oakmont, but then proceeded to rip into pickleball supporters, blaming them for much of the turmoil because they wouldn’t “let go” of the cancelled pickleball project.
Some other board member chastised Leznik for her confrontational tone, and there were hoots and hollers and calls for Leznik and Heyman to resign from their president and vice-president board positions.
The contentious meeting went on for hours, including a discussion of whether not any future pickleball facilities should be put up to an Oakmont-wide vote. Some argued this was a democratic way to handle the issue, but others said OVA members are elected specifically to handle these issues, and that nothing would ever be built in Oakmont if such decisions were left up to a vote of Oakmonters.
A pickleball vote will be further talked about at the August board meeting.
Leznik’s detractors got their wish and more on July 27 when Leznik informed fellow board members that she was resigning from the board completely.
“I resigned because I felt I could no longer be effective in my job as Board President and Director and accomplish what Oakmonters had elected me to do,” wrote Leznik in an email. “Oakmont is a beautiful place and home to many wonderful people, many of whom I am proud to call my friends. It is very unfortunate that recent events have upset the usual tranquility and serenity of our community. I am very hopeful that we will be able to resolve our problems in a more neighborly and friendly manner and get back to enjoying our life.”
The OVA board is in the middle of appointing a search committee to find a new manager. The seat vacated by Leznik will be filled by an OVA board appointment.