In a move that shocked his fellow board members, Mar Vista Community Council Chair Albert Olson abruptly resigned from the community board Nov. 8.
Olson’s sudden decision to resign in the middle of the November meeting during an appointment process came as a surprise to his board colleagues.
“Albert is a good man and a good leader,” said Marilyn Marble. “He will definitely be missed.”
First Vice President Sharon Commins will serve as first vice president/interim chair until further notice.
The community council is in the process of filling three seats caused by vacancies after two other members, Laura Bodensteiner and Tara Mulski, moved out of Mar Vista during the last three months. According to the council’s bylaws, the chair is empowered to select and interview candidates for the vacancies on the council and then make a recommendation to the board at a public meeting.
A candidate must receive two-thirds of the council’s vote in order to be accepted. In the event that does not occur, the chair has the option to select another candidate.
According to Mar Vista’s bylaws, the candidates undergo an up or down vote and no one is allowed to offer substitute or alternative candidates.
Olson’s choice, attorney Yvette Molinaro, received seven votes at the Nov. 8 meeting and needed eight in order to be seated on the board. His second choice also failed to win the necessary number of votes. It was then recommended by one of the three members who rejected the candidates that Olson choose from a list of alternative candidates.
Shortly thereafter, Olson announced his resignation.
The appointment was tabled subsequent to Olson’s announcement.
“We thought that we had a pretty solid procedure for filling board seats,” Commins said in an interview with The Argonaut. “And yet it all went off the tracks.
“We need to examine the process and see if we can improve and also examine our bylaws.”
In a letter to his council colleagues, Olson sought to explain his actions the day after the meeting.
“It has become clear to me that this process will become even messier if I continue down the only path that I can in good conscience pursue, that is, the nomination of the candidate I have already put forward,” the former chair wrote. “Because of this, I am hopeful that my resignation will defuse some of the problem, and allow Ms. Molinaro – or some other equally qualified candidate – to take their rightful seat on the board.”
When interviewed by The Argonaut two days after his resignation, Olson offered additional insight into his reasons for choosing to quit the council.
“This is something that has been in the process for a month,” Olson began. “(The appointment process) turned into something that it should not have been.”
Olson said he was told by a board member that he should have nominated another candidate, Chelsea McFarland, and was also told on the night of the meeting that the board member was waiting for him to nominate someone other than Molinaro.
“I perceived that as an injustice to the person who I nominated,” the former chair said.
Sources close to the community council say board member Maritza Przekop preferred McFarland and was against Molinaro from the outset.
In his letter, Olson apologized to Molinaro, whom he called “an excellent candidate,” and lamented that some members of the council did not have faith in his selection.
“It had been my hope that board members would trust the process and the judgment of the chair, and allow this simple process to work,” he wrote. “Clearly the candidate(s) who was appointed/nominated was an excellent candidate. I am saddened and embarrassed that we subjected her, and the other candidates, to such a debacle.”
Olson said that he had been threatened with grievances because he would not recommend McFarland and has been accused of acting in a “bullying” manner towards a candidate, which he strongly denied. The former board chair said he was forced to defend himself to officials from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), which oversees neighborhood councils, and to Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office.
“Unfortunately, the candidate that some board members were waiting for me to nominate is one whom I in good conscience cannot,” he wrote. “And I chose to not get into an unseemly dispute in front of the public regarding the issues concerning that person.
“No matter the outcome, it would have demeaned our process even more.”
Przekop declined to comment and referred inquires to Commins.
DONE General Manager BongHwan Kim could not be reached for comment on the grievances.
Olson said the events of Nov. 8 caused him to consider the possibility that residents who have been encouraged to get involved with the council have been subjected to unfair treatment.
“My concern is that we have invited people into the process and turned against them in a negative way,” he said.
While Molinaro lives in Mar Vista, McFarland does not, and the seat that was slated for appointment is an at-large director’s seat, which can only be occupied by someone who meets DONE’s definition of a stakeholder, which is anyone who works, lives or owns property in a neighborhood.
Olson said that during his interview with the candidates it became clear that McFarland did not qualify for the at-large seat but as a factual basis stakeholder, which is a person who “affirms” a stake or interest in a particular neighborhood, but could serve in another capacity, such as on the council’s green committee.
McFarland, who lives in Del Rey, is involved with a beekeeping project that was approved by the council the night of Olson’s resignation.
Commins said the council plans to fill the Zone Four seat, which was held by Mulski. “At that meeting, if the board also wants to reconsider a motion to fill (Bodensteiner’s slot), they would have to take it off the table and go through the candidates’ names,” Commins said.
Second Vice President Bill Koontz said he does not feel the appointment procedure should be changed.
“Personally, I think there was a misunderstanding of the process by some members of the board,” Koontz said. “I think that some were assuming that this was an election instead of an appointment.”
Marble said although she did not vote for Molinaro, it was not because she was holding out for McFarland. “It was because (Molinaro) is new to Mar Vista and I didn’t know if she knew our issues well enough,” Marble explained. “I have no connection or interest (in McFarland).”
Sherri Akers, a co-chair of the green committee, said she was saddened to learn that Olson had chosen to step down.
“It has been an honor serving with him and this is a great loss to the Mar Vista Community Council,” she said. “He has enormous integrity and gave so generously to the community.
“He played a strong role in our success in the green committee as we didn’t always agree, and he inspired us to see issues from all points of view and shape our initiatives and efforts to represent the widest possible audience.”
Olson said it was an “honor and privilege” to be a part of the council and regretted not seeing Molinaro on the board.
“I am hopeful that my resignation, which is a very sad moment in my life, will assist in moving the nomination of Ms. Molinaro forward, and hopefully also encourage Ms. McFarland to find a way, if she so desires, to become an important part of the future of the Mar Vista Community Council,” he wrote. The elections and bylaws committee has been asked to reexamine the board’s current governing blueprint and make a presentation on what they recommend Dec. 5.
Commins said she plans to follow the same procedure that Olson followed, but declined to say who she planned to nominate if the board chooses to seek an appointment.
The council’s executive board will make a recommendation to the full board after it is presented with the bylaws committee’s December report.