The Kenwood Press
News: 08/15/2017

Oakmont tries to get back up

Alec Peters

Things looked like they were spiraling out of control in Oakmont two weeks ago after the senior community was buffeted by staff resignations, constant quarreling among Oakmont officials and residents, and the stepping down of the president of the board of directors, the treasurer, and the board’s longtime attorney. There were also cries of censorship of Oakmont’s in-house newspaper, and the discovery of a potential computer hack in Oakmont’s administrative office.

But the situation was looking better after the most recent Oakmont Village Association (OVA) board of directors meeting, as Oakmont officials tried to right the ship and assure residents that progress was being made on a number of fronts.

Civility had been in short supply at previous board meetings, but the Aug. 7 meeting, for the most part, was a tame affair compared to others. The Berger Center was again packed full of Oakmonters, many chagrined by the community’s squabbles being plastered all over the pages of the Press Democrat, which board member Greg Goodwin said had given the 4,500-person hamlet a “black eye” and “tarnished our image.”

Among the announcements at the meeting was the hiring of the Southern California-based firm, Sequoia Grove Consulting, to conduct the search for a new manager. Earlier this summer, the previous manager, Cassie Turner, had resigned, complaining that she couldn’t work with the current board of directors due to an, “insurmountable lack of collaboration and a high degree of exclusion.” Turner had served in the position for two and a half years.

In the interim, the OVA board has brought back former manager Ted Throndson, who had been in the post for 13 years before retiring in 2010.

The board also has to hire a new office technology director. The previous employee resigned earlier this summer, citing difficulties in working with the board. Board members said that resumes had come in for the spot, and that interviews would be conducted soon.

The board also addressed a previous fear of computer hacking in the administrative office. In a July 28 email message to Oakmonters, the board wrote that the OVA computers had been breached, and that an IT forensic security expert had been hired to assess the damage.

At the Aug. 7 board meeting, it was announced that the expert had determined that that there had been no outside or unauthorized breach of the system.

“No sensitive personal information was compromised,” said Ken Heyman, current board president.

The OVA is also looking for a new board member, due to the recent resignation of board president Ellen Leznick. Leznick had difficulties with other board members and OVA staff, and had been often accused of micromanagement and being divisive.

The board has 30 days to appoint a new member, or else the spot would go to an Oakmont-wide vote.

Another simmering issue has been over an article that appeared in the Oakmont News, the twice-a-month publication put out under the auspices of the OVA and the board of directors. The paper has information about all the goings-on in Oakmont. Five years ago, a volunteer editorial team of Oakmont residents with journalistic experience was brought on to expand its news and feature writing.

The problem began with a July 14 online article about Turner’s resignation as manager, which quoted Turner about her problems with the board. This prompted some board members to worry that in writing about a personnel issue in a publication that they were legally responsible for, they had opened up the OVA corporation to possible legal exposure.

Board member Heyman sent an email to the editorial team saying that future stories would need to be reviewed before publication. The editorial team felt that this condition was unworkable, charged censorship, and stepped down.

As of press time, board representatives and the editorial team, which served as the board’s Communications Committee, were still in discussion regarding board involvement with news stories, and the editorial team’s future participation, if any, in the Oakmont News.

At the Aug. 7 board meeting, some members of the public accused the board of overreach regarding the Turner article, stating that no personnel issue was involved in this case and it just looked like the board was trying to avoid printing any news that might make them look bad.

To defend their stance regarding the Oakmont News, the board handed out an opinion from their current attorney regarding the issue of board authority to prohibit what is published in the Oakmont News by the Communication Committee. The opinion concluded that the committee can’t publish “whatever it wants” in the paper.

Attorney Steven Weil wrote, “…since the Board is the ultimate arbiter of committee ‘decisions and conclusions’, it is the Association and possibly the Board that is responsible for what is published in the Oakmont News.”

In other matters, the OVA board ordered that bids be obtained for a comprehensive sound study regarding the possible permanent repurposing of some of the tennis courts into pickleball courts at the East Recreation Center.

Pickleball has been a contentious issue the last three years in Oakmont, with previous boards going forward with a plan to build new pickleball facilities near the Berger Center. This plan was stopped with the election of new board members opposed to the project.