Kenwood Press

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News: 09/01/2017

Oakmont board sorting through summer turmoil

Board president threatened

Simmering, often bitter disagreements between residents over how to best govern Oakmont are beginning to wane, but a disturbing incident occurred on the evening of Aug. 12 when a severed rat head was left in a paper bag on the doorstep of Oakmont Village Association (OVA) board president Ken Heyman. Written on the bag was “You Next.”

The not-so-subtle threat is still being investigated by the Santa Rosa Police Department, with a $2,000 reward offered for information about the perpetrator.

In an emergency meeting of the OVA board, Heyman resigned as president but remained on the board, and surveillance cameras were approved to be installed outside the homes of each board member.

A few days later, Frank Batchelor resigned from the board altogether, leaving what is supposed to be a seven-member board with only five directors. (Former board president Ellen Leznik had resigned at the end of July.)

The rat head affair was the shocking nadir in a chaotic and vitriolic summer that saw some Oakmont staff resign, including the general manager and outside attorney. A debate had continued over the OVA’s publication, the Oakmont News, and complaints from its editors about what they said was a heavy handed attempt by board members to control its news content.

All of this set the backdrop for the board’s Aug. 22 meeting, again attracting a standing-room-only crowd of residents.

Board members encouraged everyone in Oakmont to behave civilly toward each other and work together.

“We can agree to disagree,” said Heyman, “but let’s agree to treat our fellow neighbors with respect and caring.”

At the meeting, the board appointed two new board members, Karen Oswald and Lynda Oneto, announced the hiring of a new information technology staffer, and the entering into a new contract with the attorney who had previously resigned, Malcolm Manwell.

But the biggest item on the agenda was the status of the Oakmont News, a twice-a-month newspaper published under the ultimate authority of the OVA board of directors. The publication serves as a house organ of sorts, printing club news for the most part. Under an arrangement set up five years ago, space is also provided for news articles written by a volunteer editorial team of former journalists.

This arrangement seemed to work fine until a July 14 Oakmont News online article reported on the resignation of the OVA’s general manager, Cassie Turner. Turner was quoted criticizing the board and how it was operating.

Some board members saw the publication of a personnel dispute in a publication that the OVA board is ultimately responsible for, as opening the OVA, a non-profit corporation, to potential legal exposure. The suggestion of board review of future news stories met with protests from the three-member editorial team, who felt they were being censored.

At the Aug. 22 meeting, the board decided to temporarily dissolve the Communications Committee, which oversees the Oakmont News and the Oakmont website. The paper’s editorial team are members of that seven-person Communications Committee.

In the interim, an ad hoc committee will be charged with reviewing what OVA board president Gloria Young said were contradictory and conflicting policy statements of the OVA, the OVA board, and the Communications Committee pertaining to the news operations of the Oakmont News.

Young said the ad hoc committee would meet over a 30-day period, after which the Communications Committee would be regenerated, and there would be a call for applications from prior committee members as well as any other interested Oakmonters.

The creation of the ad hoc committee was approved by a 4-1 vote, with board member Kathleen Connelly dissenting, objecting to the dissolving of the Communications Committee while the ad hoc committee is doing its work.

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