→ See video of the two RMA meetings here
[Full story posted Jan. 16] The Rancho Murieta Association board addressed two vexing issues Tuesday night, allowing Village households access behind the gates and reaching agreement on committee chairs.
Village access OK'd at $300 annual fee
The board voted unanimously to allow gate access to Village residents in exchange for a $300 annual fee.
“It’s just a question of trying to pay a fair share, is what we’re trying to establish here,” said Alex Bauer, board president. “People who live inside the gates, who have access to these amenities, we all pay....”
There was back-and-forth about the exact fee, but in the end the board settled on the number first proposed by Director Jim Crowder. Last year, the RMA board approved charging Village residents $62.40 a month for access, a figure based on an analysis of what RMA members pay for association amenities. That’s roughly $750 a year.
Gate-access bar codes for Village residents were turned off Jan. 1.
“It’d be nice to have closure to this,” Crowder said of the disagreement, which has gone on for four years.
The Village was the first residential piece of Rancho Murieta to be developed. The RMA has explained its motivation for the Village fee, after many years without one, as the need to establish a consistent policy on gate access for development outside the gates. A home builder says the Murieta Gardens development, across Murieta Drive from the Village, will start selling 78 homes in December.
Villagers who want gate access, which is available now, must apply at the RMA. They will be required to sign a resident-use form agreeing to abide by RMA rules and to pay a fine if they break the rules. The $300 fee gets a Villager one bar code.
Board settles committee leadership issues
The board appointed committee chairs at an earlier, organizational meeting that lasted only 22 minutes. The meeting had to be continued after last month’s session was stymied by questions about whether Director Stephanie Bianchi would be given the chairmanship of a committee other than Recreation, where she has served for a year. Dozens of Murietans came out to oppose that possible change.
This time, with only a handful of people in the audience, the Recreation Committee question was addressed quickly, unanimously and with no discussion when Alex Bauer, board president, proposed that Director Larry Shelton join Bianchi as committee co-chair.
Director Joanne Brandt nominated herself to continue as Communications Chair and to assume responsibility for the Maintenance Committee.
Bianchi offered to co-chair Communications with Brandt, saying she could assist with ongoing progress for the website and social media. Brandt resisted, saying, “Actually, as far as social media, I don’t consider that to be a reliable or important information most of the time, from what I’ve read.” Asked by Bauer if she would change her motion, Brandt said she would be glad to consult with Bianchi but she wouldn’t change her motion.
The vote on that motion ended in a 3-3 tie, with Brandt, Bauer and Director Cheryl McElhany voting yes. (Director Rob Brown was not present for the organizational meeting.)
After all the other chairmanships were handed out, Director Larry Shelton returned to the question, making a motion for the co-chairmanship Bianchi proposed, and the board approved unanimously.
In the other assignments, all by unanimous vote:
- Brandt will be head of Maintenance, replacing Shelton.
- Shelton nominated himself for Compliance Committee, replacing Director Jim Crowder.
- McElhany nominated Crowder to chair the Architectural Review Committee, replacing Shelton.
- McElhany will continue as Finance Committee chair.
- Brown will continue as chair of the Governing Documents Committee.
- McElhany and Brown will continue as representatives to the Parks Committee.
- Bauer will continue as chair of the Personnel Committee, which meets rarely.
- The Joint Security Committee will have Crowder and Shelton as representatives.
In public comments before the votes, neighbor Stephanie Xenos read aloud a letter she was asked to share by another neighbor, Jennifer Heavenston, that echoed many of the points aired at last month’s contentious meeting. The letter said moving Bianchi from Recreation would be unprecedented. It said in part, “...This is not about Recreation Committee. This is the attempt to humiliate and quiet a progressive member of the board, someone that has a busy schedule and maybe can’t make every suggested meeting date, someone that has pointed questions, someone that demands change and accountability, someone that represents a different demographic than all of you. She is a squeaky wheel, the thorn in your side.”
GM's new contract is challenged
Neighbor Stephanie Xenos read a statement to the board challenging the contract granted last year to General Manager Greg Vorster, which she said was written by someone who didn’t have the association’s best interests in mind. The three-year contract, signed late last year, runs to February 2022.
Her statement posed a number of questions and offered this view of the contract, which is available to any association member to review:
- Annual salary of $147,800 independent of benefits, car allowance or bonus
- Benefits payments equal to 10 percent of salary
- Five weeks of paid vacation a year
- $500 monthly vehicle allowance or use of RMA-maintained vehicle
- A 4 percent annual raise regardless of job performance
- There are staff bonuses that Xenos said she couldn't fully understand and needed the RMA to clarify.
In a different context late last year, Vorster said his new contract’s annual salary is $147,680 and it grants him every other Friday off, a benefit that came about when another association discussed hiring him at a “considerably higher” salary and he accepted time off instead of pay to stay with RMA. The retirement payment was bumped from 8 to 10 percent in the new contract, he said, and there is a performance-based bonus of up to $15,000.
In keeping with the new board meeting policy, no director responded to Xenos’ comments directly, but at the end of the meeting, when directors are allowed three minutes each for general comments, a majority of the board indicated support for Vorster. President Alex Bauer said Vorster's contributions are hard to measure in dollars. Director Rob Brown called Vorster the "go-to guy" who has "a unique institutional knowledge of the community here that nobody else has." Brown said he believes the board handled its responsibilities properly in granting Vorster's contract. "I understand if you're on the outside looking in, you might not understand that," he said.
After the meeting, Xenos handed her statement to Bauer, who said the RMA will respond by letter.
Board is asked to apologize
Mike Martel, the Country Club's current president and a past RMA director, offered emotional comments about the way Randy Jenco was addressed by the board at last month’s meeting. Jenco, a longtime Murietan, spoke last month to defend how much Little League had contributed to the association’s Stonehouse Park.
“The comment was that (Jenco) received a tax benefit for his donation and his volunteerism into this community,” Martel said. He explained how youth activities like Little League, soccer, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were launched here only through the work of community volunteers like Jenco. Martel said the Jenco family was an early sponsor of Entertainment, Theatre & Culture and offered to build the group a stage at no cost to RMA to help ETC succeed.
Martel told the board, “I think you guys were out of line to reference anything about his generosity, or their generosity, or their contribution to just about every single thing that goes on in this (community).” Later in the meeting, Director Joanne Brandt said she agrees.
In other business...
- At both of Tuesday’s meetings, Director Alex Bauer, board president, read a statement outlining rules for conduct at RMA meetings. He said the rules, prompted by unruly behavior at recent meetings, were taken from the Davis-Sterling Act, which governs homeowner associations in California. Basically, the statement called for respectful meetings, with public comment only allowed on non-agenda items at the start of the meeting and with comments on agendized items only as those items come up at the meeting. See Bauer’s full statement here.
- The board voted 6-0, with one abstention, to approve a one-year field-use contract with the Rancho Murieta Bulldogs youth baseball tournament team. General Manager Greg Vorster said the one-year contract carries no charges for the first six months and a charge for the remainder yet to be determined by the board. Director Larry Shelton abstained from the vote.
- The RMA’s Casino Night, coming up Feb. 23, has sold 93 tickets, Director Stephanie Bianchi reported. There are seven sponsors, she said, which means the event is already more than $1,000 in the black with the possibility of additional sponsors. Tickets are available at the RMA office and on Eventbrite.com.
- General Manager Greg Vorster and Director Joanne Brandt reported on the decision by Greenfield Communications to continue to operate in Rancho Murieta and new services and pricing it is rolling out. These topics were covered in a story last week. Brandt reminded everyone that the cable switch happens next week.
- Brandt said the RMA's new website has almost 200 members and that Murietans will see an email invitation and an event introducing the community to the new site.
- A Joint Security Committee meeting will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at the RMA Building, the board announced.