Monday, December 31, 2007


Commentary by Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2007 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

The board of directors of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), which ought to be a leader in following the rules/law, is intentionally and knowingly violating the state’s tough Brown Act, its contract with the City of San Diego and its own by-laws, ac-cording to allegations filed with city, county and state prosecu-tors.

And it intends to continue doing so!

State Brown Act: The Special Operations Unit of the county District Attorney’s office is looking into the alleged Brown Act violations. They include (1) the failure of its executive director Warren Simon to mail complete agendas to board members before meetings, and (2) the use of prohibited secret ballots during voting.

Before a civil or criminal action can be filed in the courts, state law requires the HBA board to try to “cure and correct” the alleged violations.

A Dec. 4th “cure and correct” Special Meeting of the board was oddly presided over by the HBA’s attorney John Stump of City Heights (Why not use a Hillcrest attorney? Simon hasn’t done his homework to locate one, as he promised in September.) The elected president, Mike Wright, seemed totally overwhelmed by the problems.

Stump openly admitted that the HBA “cannot cure and cannot proceed” as required by state law. “Now we cannot undo what we did. We are stuck. My recommendation is to proceed, anyway.”

The problem facing attorney Stump is that he had recommended a procedure to “cure and correct” the alleged Brown Act violations that was NOT permitted by Robert’s Rules of Order.

Stump suggested that the HBA board simply “reconsider” the actions of the Oct. 9th meeting that allegedly violated state law.

Unfortunately, a Motion for Reconsideration has time limits, and is only valid on the same day of the original action – Oct. 9th. Additionally, it cannot be used where the previous action (election of officers) has been implemented, as here.

But state law, by-laws restrictions, City contracts or Robert’s Rules of Order hasn’t stopped the HBA from doing whatever it wanted to do, so the reconsideration was approved, albeit unlawfully.

On that night, the owner of the Crest Café, Cecelia Moreno, who had been elected HBA treasurer on Oct. 9th, was replaced by the former treasurer, Scott Crowder. She hated that, and wanted to get that power back.

So at the Dec. 12th board meeting, Moreno moved that the board “reconsider” the Dec. 4th votes. Unfortunately, that reconsideration was not on the agenda, and any vote would be yet another violation of the state’s Brown Act. It also violated Robert’s Rules.

But state laws and rules haven’t prevented the HBA board in the past from doing whatever it wanted to do, so Moreno replaced Crowder in the Dec. 12th vote – albeit unlawfully and improperly.

Unfortunately, because of limited resources (or, politics), the DA’s office may not prosecute these very obvious Brown Act violations.

Conflicts-of-Interest: The Marketing Committee (including treasurer Moreno, HBA president Wright and Urban Mo’s owner Chris Shaw) voted to buy display ads for their own businesses, paid for by the HBA.

However, the HBA’s contract with the city specifically prohibits conflicts-of-interest by board members. (When this was exposed, Shaw quickly repaid the HBA for his ad, saying he didn’t want to “violate the law.”) Morena and Wright did not.

The Assistant City Attorney, Don McGrath, is currently looking into these conflict-of-interest allegations. If they have merit, the HBA could lose its three-quarters of a million dollar annual funding.

By-Law Violations: For unknown reasons, the HBA board voted to in-crease its size from 15 to 20 in 1990. Unfortunately, the HBA By-Laws clearly state that only the membership can change the asso-ciation’s By-Laws.

Even knowing that their action violated their own By-Laws, the board voted on Dec. 12th to re-affirm the size of the board at 20 members. That vote wasn’t on the agenda, and was yet another possible Brown Act violation.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at