Ocean Beach Town Council shaken by controversial resignations of president and two others
The Ocean Beach Town Council has become embroiled in controversy over the sudden resignation of President Mark Winkie, with two other board members resigning in the aftermath.
Winkie sent a letter July 6 to the 14 other board members taking responsibility for an undisclosed personal indiscretion and seeking to speak to each member individually to forestall any disruption to the organization. It didn’t work.
Within seven hours and without a formal meeting, a reply signed by 10 board members was sent to Winkie questioning the effectiveness of his leadership as president and requesting that he resign in order to put the issue behind them. Winkie soon resigned.
The episode came to public attention when Winkie’s wife, Susan, read a statement at the Town Council’s July 28 meeting that singled out “a few people who advocated hard” for his resignation.
Many OB Town Council-sponsored events have been set for later this year, including the traditional holiday festivities, though the Delta coronavirus variant could render the schedule ‘a little up in the air.’
In question was whether the letter to Winkie requesting his resignation complied with OBTC bylaws, which state in Section 5 that a board member can only be removed 30 days after receiving written notice of the intent and given an opportunity to address the issue.
“In my year and a half on the board, we have never put a letter out without everybody’s vote,” said member Arlene Fink, who also resigned. “Even if everybody didn’t agree, everybody got a chance to vote. That did not happen here. ... Mark received that letter seven hours later [after sending his to board members]. There were 13 board members they were trying to get hold of to sign the letter ... immediately. This is a rush job.”
Board member Christie Romano, one of the original signatories of the letter, has since rescinded her consent and resigned.
“I’m honest and ethical, and I just wasn’t feeling comfortable,” Romano said. “I was like, ‘What is going on that the community doesn’t know?’ That’s where I have an issue. The community doesn’t know what’s going on and some of us are doing this, not even informing the community, letting them have a say. It just wasn’t done right. It just wasn’t fair.”
There are now four vacancies on the board, including former Vice President Jon Carr, who quit for personal reasons a month before the Winkie incident.
New OBTC President Corey Bruins is finding the turmoil to be front and center.
“The complexities of what’s going on here run deep enough for me to have spent over 100 hours on this,” Bruins said. “I’m super deep into it and I’ve heard sides of this story from everybody you can possibly imagine. People have gone from feeling one way to feeling another way. Emotions are running. ... From my perspective, my goal here is to create a space where the board could go back to their work.”
Bruins said the letter was not an official communication but rather expressed the sentiment of the signatories seeking Winkie’s resignation. Bruins also contended that the bylaws issue is mute since Winkie acquiesced to the request less than two hours after receiving it.
“It was simply a letter,” Bruins said. “It wasn’t an organizational action. It wasn’t a vote of the board. It was simply a group of us that asked Mark to resign. And he did. He could have chosen not to do that. He had all sorts of choices with what to do with the letter that we wrote to him. What he chose to do was resign.”
Winkie wrote a terse resignation letter, noting that “the majority has spoken.”
Later he said he rued his decision.
“Even though I felt like I was being treated unjustly and unfairly, I thought [resignation] would be the right course of action,” Winkie said. “However, in retrospect, after these dynamics came to light of this maneuvering and nefarious behavior behind the scenes, I realized that I could no longer be silent. Obviously, other people felt the same way.
“Remember, we’re talking about a board that represents a significant membership and the community at large. There’s an incredible arrogance they seem to have at this point. That is disappointing, to say the least.”
While board members would not reveal what Winkie did that led to the request for his resignation, they agreed that it was not an illegal or unethical act related to his role as board president. But the line between private and public life can get blurred in high-profile positions, Bruins said.
“For me personally, this was not a smoking-gun situation,” Bruins said. “This was not a ... ‘You really messed up and you gotta go’ kind of thing. ... What goes on in somebody’s personal life is what goes on in their personal life. But at a certain point when you’re in leadership, people are going to have perceptions around that and that’s going to create a perception of how capable a leader you are.”
Romano said she signed the letter hastily because she trusted board members when they said action was required immediately.
She said subsequent conversations with some board members revealed similar reactions to hers and led her to rescind her signature and resign from the board.
“Our community should have been involved in it,” Romano said. “We should have had some kind of open vote. It should have been more than just saying, ‘OK, you’re done. Bye Mark.’ ... I feel they had some kind of plan and all of us weren’t included in it. ... That’s what I’m not OK with. I was left out of the loop.”
Romano’s resignation letter questioned “the lack of transparency” and said the situation was “rushed, executed poorly and did not follow the intent of our bylaws.”
After years of volunteer service for most of OBTC’s events, Romano’s resignation was accepted with a reply from Bruins stating: “We’re sorry to see you go, Christie! Thanks for all of your work.”
“I’ve done all these events and contributed myself to the community to help out with everything and that’s the way they let me go — ‘Have a good day. Thanks for the letter,’” Romano said. “That to me is a little slap in the face.”
Romano said she would continue to donate and volunteer for OBTC and other community-sponsored events.
Fink said Winkie’s behavior as president is the only yardstick by which he should have been measured by the board.
“Who has never done wrong ever?” Fink said. “Who are we to judge someone else? I’ve made mistakes on the board. ... Mark is well-spoken, he’s well-informed, he’s well-read, he’s well-connected and he’s well-intentioned. If anybody says anything other than that, they’re lying.”
Fallout from the affair continues. An open letter Aug. 5 signed by 22 former OBTC board members and other leading community figures argued that OBTC should hold open elections among its membership to fill the four vacant seats to “re-establish trust.”
“It’s not really about me,” Winkie said. “It’s about the Town Council. It’s about having good, quality leadership with clean motives and not turning into a little club. This is Ocean Beach’s organization and not the board’s.”