With the room filling up, the RMA board heard from people supporting a continuing role as Recreation Committee chair for Director Stephanie Bianchi. (Click for larger image)
Rancho Murieta Association organizational meetings are usually brief, cheerful affairs just before the holidays. Tuesday night’s RMA organizational meeting was dominated by a loud dispute over whether a director can be reassigned to chair a different committee.
The key bit of business – electing 2019 RMA officers – was a continuation of the current officers: Alex Bauer as president, Larry Shelton as vice president, Cheryl McElhany as treasurer and Rob Brown as secretary. The vote was 6-1, with Stephanie Bianchi dissenting.
The focus of most of the meeting was Bianchi’s role as Recreation Committee chair – her desire to remain in the job and the desire of dozens of audience members to see her continue. The board voted to postpone the committee assignments until it could review Bianchi’s suggestion of a new approach to assigning committee chairs. That vote was 5-2, with Bauer and Brown voting no.
The organizational meeting, which began at 5 p.m., had an audience of 20 as it started, with people continuing to trickle in. By the time the session was suspended a half-hour later to allow for a board meeting with a vendor, the audience had nearly doubled. When the regular meeting began at 6:30, the audience had doubled again, this time including families on hand to accept their RMA awards for holiday lights. The crowd spilled out into the building’s entry area. The organizational meeting resumed after the hour-plus regular meeting and lasted 45 minutes more.
Because the RMA did not videotape this meeting, we're sharing our rough audio recordings – the meeting Part 1 and Part 2. Just click the orange arrow at left to start the playback. These recordings were not intended to be shared with the public, so we apologize in advance for the quality. Part 1 begins a minute or two into the meeting.
The audience was younger than the typical RMA meeting. Most of those present were unfamiliar faces at RMA meetings.
Eight people spoke in favor of Bianchi remaining as Recreation chair during the meeting's two sessions. Several said she is the board’s only representative of the young, family-rearing segment of the community.
While the RMA videotaped Tuesday’s regular board meeting, the organizational sessions were not recorded, which is consistent with the RMA’s past practice.
Bauer, the president, opened the organizational meeting by addressing some of the comments he has seen on social media.
“There are no political agendas,” he said. “We are not talking about the status of one board member tonight, but rather how seven board members can function together as a team, moving forward with our goals. The plan tonight is to shuffle five – I repeat, that’s five – board members who are going to take on new committees today.... And we want to do that in a way that plays to the strengths of individual board members, staff compatibility and seniority requests. We have to juggle all that.”
For example, he said, Bianchi would be a good fit on the Communications Committee, adding, “No one on this board can serve our community better on Communications than Stephanie.” He called her skills in that arena “vital at this time.”
In her year on the board, Bianchi has been alert to the RMA’s communications possibilities and failures, as she urged the board to get a new website and to begin using social media.
Bauer concluded, “While recreation is important, and we will still have a Recreation Committee, and we still want to have wonderful events, in light of our other priorities, we believe that the motion tonight is going to serve our community in the best way possible.”
Stephanie Xenos said she has worked with Bianchi on some of the committee’s efforts and told the board, “The majority of people in this room feel like Stephanie being on Rec is moving this community forward.” She added, “It’s kind of a slap in the face for some of us who’ve been working with her side by side and doing a lot of things with her.”
Xenos, who has attended board meetings this year, said she thinks the board is dysfunctional. “I see the different hand gestures, eye-rollings and dramaticness when things are being talked about,” she said, “and I think it’s disgusting.” (Later, when a director asked, Xenos said she was accusing Bauer of reacting dramatically to Bianchi’s comments.)
Xenos said the directors have lost their way. “We are the people who put you in office,” she said. “We are the people who are trying to tell you, tonight, what we want in this community.”
When Brown asked Xenos to clarify and followed up with more questions, she responded to applause, “I do not want to be cross-examined. I’m your boss. I’m the person who put you in office.”
Billy Haze called Bianchi “a wonderful young mind” who’s “leading this community in the right direction, which represents really the demographic that’s in this community.” He asked Bauer how Bianchi’s performance has been inadequate, adding, “Well, for the record, Stephanie Bianchi’s done a great job, and if she’s voted out of it, you guys are going to have a real problem. This community’s not going to stand for it.”
Randee Ross was applauded when she said Bianchi is the only younger person on the board and that she’s trying to serve the community’s families, which will be a growing slice of Rancho Murieta. “This community, I realize, used to be more of a senior retirement community, but it’s not anymore. We have families, and more families moving in, and the people building houses, those are going to be families moving in, not retirees. We need somebody that speaks for us on recreational things too.”
Bianchi’s parents, neighbors Rose and Stephen Bianchi, were in the audience. Rose Bianchi, who said she has volunteered and served organizations for many years, said her daughter should be allowed to shepherd the committee for another year to ensure the foundation she has developed in the first year.
“Believe me, if she’s not doing this stuff, it’s easier on me,” Rose Bianchi said. “Because I’m the support and I help with the kids. But she has done a marvelous job. ... It’s a big job. It’s a huge job. It’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of effort. It takes a lot of community involvement. And if you pass that up, then you guys just don’t have it together. ... She will take this committee, and she will make it what it needs to be.” She got sustained applause.
“There’s only one face up there that truly represents me,” Allison Donnalley said of the board, referring to Bianchi. “I don’t have anything else in common with most of these folks except for the fact that we are all residents here.”
Bianchi, who didn’t speak in the opening part of the reorganization meeting, told the second session that the process for naming chairs wasn’t following RMA precedent, that it was outside the RMA Code of Conduct and that she wanted the board to call a special meeting to “discuss the impropriety of the current process” and suggest a different one. She said the bylaws allow for a committee made up of association members to evaluate applicants for committee chair.
“So that’s taking the responsibility away from the board to determine the committee chair,” said Shelton.
“Correct,” Bianchi replied.
“So who would be making the decision?” asked McElhany.
“The citizen’s committee,” Shelton said.
“Us!” “The residents!” members of the audience answered.
In response to one speaker, McElhany said that while Bianchi may have run for the board on a platform of representing young families and offering more recreation events, “Once (a candidate is) elected and takes a seat on this board, they then represent the whole community. And they make a commitment that they’re going to work cohesively with this board to deal with the issues that we have to deal with.” She added, “Now she’s on the board and she’s got to not only represent young families but she’s got to represent senior-citizen interests, she’s got to represent newcomers’ interests – I mean, there are all kinds of interests in this community and we have lots of things that we have to deal with. And we definitely have more serious business to deal with than recreation.”
When McElhany asked whether, if Bianchi were allowed to continue on Recreation for a second year, would the audience members then fight for a third year, the audience shouted that they would.
Against a rising noise level, McElhany said, “We don’t need an audience telling us how to do the business,” and the room erupted. “You serve us! You serve us!” a man yelled from the back as Bauer tried to gavel the meeting to order.
Responding to McElhany, Bianchi said the Recreation Committee made a pointed effort this year to have events for every age group. Earlier, she gave media members a list of the committee’s 2018 work, which listed these events:
- CPR first aid course
- Bike rodeo
- Red Hawk Casino bus trip
- Coed softball
- College savings seminar
- Movie night
- Splash park opening
- SPCA event
- February’s casino night
The list doesn’t include bingo nights, the RMA’s role in July 4 and the Christmas lights awards.
While Bianchi said she didn’t run on a recreation platform, she said, “I think it’s one of the most positive public relations things that RMA can do for our community.”
Brown said Bianchi has mobilized a crew of community members who are interested in events. Because the RMA has “a small capacity for recreation,” he said this should spark the creation of a new community group. He pointed to Entertainment, Theatre & Culture as an example of a community group that came together to put on events beyond the RMA’s capacity. “We can support it in certain ways,” Brown said of a new group, “but we don’t have the capacity to sell tickets and take in money and get sponsors.”
He added, “There’s so much passion in this room for recreation and events for a certain demographic that I would encourage you to take it out of RMA’s hands.” Pointing into the crowd, he said, “There’s your director right there! There’s your vice president right there! Take it out of RMA’s hands. You guys can have your own board. You can raise your own money. ... You guys can put on as many events as you want, you can do a Casino Corral, you can do all that, without having seven board members have to sit around and discuss if it’s the right thing for RMA.”
Acknowledging that maybe it would take more staff to get it done, Bianchi responded that given what the community was saying at the meeting, “I think it’s remiss of us as a board, when the community is coming to us and telling us that they want these activities – and RMA to sponsor and to support these activities – to completely ignore them.”