By Ashly McGlone
SAN LORENZO -- Homeowners eager to discuss their concerns about the hiring of a new chief administrator of the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association were bewildered when they encountered only empty director chairs to converse with last week.
The association's board of directors was scheduled Thursday to discuss long-standing homeowner allegations that board members violated state open meeting laws as well as the association's bylaws and code of conduct before and following the selection of Susan Kleebauer as administrator in November. Several association members had unsuccessfully petitioned for a special meeting to discuss their concerns earlier this year and were hopeful last week's annual meeting would provide clarity to the issue, which has been dubbed "Wydlergate," for brother and sister board members at the center of the dispute.
What they got instead was just a mic. Nearly all the board members they had come to talk with were sitting in the audience.
The board of the 6,000-home association often serves as the mouthpiece of the unincorporated San Lorenzo community, which has no City Council and only county oversight. Local law enforcement agencies and county officials provide reports at each board meeting, and the county rents the homeowners meeting space on occasion for meetings.
When it came time to hire a new top administrator last year, several homeowners said they had a sense the selection wasn't made in good faith. Their petition for a special meeting was rejected on the advice of the association's attorney because it sought a "Special Meeting of the Board," and not a "Special meeting of the Members" as provided for in the bylaws, according to Jan. 8 meeting minutes.
When a series of private emails subsequently surfaced between Kleebauer and former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young, some said their fears Kleebauer had an inside track to the job were confirmed.
Kleebauer, who most recently worked as a managing attorney for the Alameda County Bar Association, did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week. Young denied any wrongdoing or "backroom dealing."
According to the emails, Kleebauer asked Young at 9:36 a.m. on Sept. 24 where the job was posted. Young responded less than an hour later, "They have not posted it yet; you were privy to an early copy! I'll check with my source and see wassup!!!"
Later that night, Young wrote again to Kleebauer saying she spoke with board member Diane Wydler, who said her brother and then board president Art Wydler, requested that she send her resume to the standard "jobs" email, and to blind-copy him at his private email address.
Young, then working as a consultant for Supervisor Wilma Chan, said this week she got a copy of the application only 24 hours before it was made public.
"It really wasn't a big deal and nobody acted inappropriately and it was a bunch of people upset (interim director) Kathy (Martins) didn't get the job," Young said.
Chan's chief of staff, Jeanette Dong, said Young's contract to help keep track of home association matters expired in October and she was in no way directed to participate in the administrator selection process.
Among those who were ready to talk about the situation Thursday and who were confused by the empty board members' seats was homeowner Maria Vargas. "This is not discussion that we've been having," she said. "It's been a one-way communication, then you wonder why people don't want to participate. It's clear right in this room, right now."
Others at the meeting voiced similar frustrations, including former association board member-turned-interim administrator Kathy Martins, who took over after the administrator for 20-plus years retired abruptly for health reasons in 2011.
"This is a membership meeting where 300 people petitioned to ask for (it) and you put off for six months and yet they still don't get any answers," Martins said.
Art Wydler, whose term ended in February, also responded to critics.
"I am not going to sit here and defend every decision that I have ever made; however I can't sit back and listen to people make specious allegations against me and other board members," he said. "I am tired of the fact that people disagreeing with the board, equating that with taking illegal or improper action."
Diane Wydler, now vice president of the board, told meeting attendees that the concerns have been addressed.
"One of these questions is 'You didn't select an administrator in good faith. Explain to us why you didn't.' Well we did, no matter what you think. You might not agree with us, you might not like our selection, but we did it in good faith, every single one of us and we have already said that at least three different meetings," she said.
Board President Catherine Kavasch, who stood in front of the empty seats Thursday, said in an interview this week it was an error to put the word "discussion" on the agenda. "It was really supposed to be a meeting of the members, by the members, for the members," Kavasch said. "We have board of directors meetings every month, so to call this annual thing a 'board of directors' thing was wrong," adding, "I completely understand people being confused by it."
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.