By Gary Walker
When tackling contentious local issues, meetings of the Venice Neighborhood Council sometimes take on what critics might call a circus-like atmosphere. The council’s September meeting took such comparisons to a whole new level when one elected member literally came dressed as clown.
Second-term VNC member Robert Thibodeau, typically one of the body’s less outspoken members, arrived at the Sept. 17 meeting decked out in a red nose, electric-green wig, painted face, and a light blue gown with an oversized blue-and-white polka dot bowtie.
Thibodeau, a local architect, tells The Argonaut he donned the clown suit to protest what he calls a consistent practice of circumventing council rules by VNC President Ira Koslow, specifically related to the handling of hearings about local development projects. Thibodeau says the final straw was the VNC deciding to re-litigate plans to add an outdoor restaurant patio to Tesuque Village Market (formerly Kim’s Market), a project that he is involved with and has recused himself from discussing as a board member.
Although the VNC recommended approval of the Tesuque project in 2018, “Ira insisted that he was going to ‘rehear’ the case,” Thibodeau alleges. “The bylaws of the council have specific rules for the reconsideration of a project, none of which applied in this case. The motion to rehear the project was defeated at the administrative committee, which sets the items on the agenda.”
Council rules allow a petition of 60 or more residents to override a committee agenda decision, and Thibodeau accuses Koslow of masterminding such a “workaround” in August: “I have been on the neighborhood council for four years,” he says, “and had never [before] seen this done.”
Koslow denies having a hand in the petition and, because Thibodeau didn’t announce why he’d come dressed as a clown, didn’t realize he was the butt of the joke.
“Personally, I was done with this project. [But] they got 160 signatures instead of 60. I had nothing to do with it,” Koslow says. “When he came dressed like that I thought that it was in reaction to a contentious neighbor who said, ‘This is like a circus.’ Little did I realize that it was about me.”
Koslow adds that he believes Thibodeau is in violation of VNC rules that require all members to serve on at least one committee, which Thibodeau has yet to do. Thibodeau responds that he’s “looking for a committee” that’ll be the right fit.
Pleased with social media response to the clown costume, Thibodeau says there’s “a certain amount of truth” in whether he donned it for personal reasons, “but there’ve been other projects where [Koslow] has acted the same way. … I felt like this was a circus and I decided to come dressed appropriately.”
At least there’s one thing he and Koslow agree on: “It was a great costume, by the way,” Koslow adds. “It was very colorful.”