Democracy, the OB Town Council, and Grassroots Activism – 11 Years Ago

by on August 26, 2021 · 0 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

The following was originally published on August 26, 2010, exactly 11 years ago to the day. It was another time and another moment, but it’s still interesting, I think. Many of my friends on the OBTC are not aware of this ancient history – and I bear no grudges.

OB Town Council ballot annou Aug 2010

Here above is the official OB Town Council Elections announcement, released August 20, 2010. Notice my name, Frank Gormlie, listed as an official candidate.Last night at their packed public meeting, I pleaded with the Ocean Beach Town Council to allow me to remain a candidate on their ballot for the annual Board election which has just begun.

They didn’t, and without a discussion or even a vote among Board members, Town Council president Jim Musgrove ruled against me.  Jim Musgrove came into the meeting having already made up his mind: Gormlie was off the ballot.

In the amidst of their agenda, the Council slid into their advertised “Candidate Forum” during which the six remaining candidates – all incumbents and with four of them having originally been appointed – gave very brief statements asking the audience for their vote. One candidate was missing (Dan Allemeier) and the other non-incumbent (Scott Therkalsen) had bowed out of the race.  So that left six candidates for seven open seats.  But no questions were asked for or given during the candidate section of the agenda.

That was not a “forum,” my friends.

The fact that I might have gotten elected to the Board must have freaked out Jim Musgrove and his friends on the Board.  He must have ensured that his friends were present, so the Board had 12 out of 14 Directors present (they often only have 9), most ready to back Musgrove no matter what he said or did.

There had originally been eight candidates for the seven open seats in the Council’s annual election. And I was one of them.  Having joined the OBTC over 3 months ago as an Ocean Beach businessowner (my business, the OB Rag) my dues had been accepted and no limitations placed on me voting (in fact I just received an email ballot today – Thursday 8/26 – and I sent it back blank).  When the call went out for candidates, I urged our readers and friends to run.  No one stepped forward, so I decided to run as a business owner. My letter of intent was accepted on August 16th as required, and the Town Council sent out their “official” ballot and I was on it, including my candidates statement.

But then, throwing a wrench into the works, Scott Therkalsen – the other non-incumbent – took his own name off the ballot for personal reasons.  That left seven candidates for seven seats – I was assured a seat at that moment.  That is when Musgrove had to scramble. He had Nancy Vaughn, the elections coordinator, do some research and look into the bylaws – or something – because Tuesday morning Vaughn called me to tell me I was not eligible because my business did not have a physical location in the 92107 zip code area.

So, on the eve of the elections, I am kicked off the ballot. They had originally accepted my candidacy and waited over a week to bring down the curtain on my great political career.

Let’s repeat this: it was not until it looked like I was certain to be elected to the Board that they moved to eliminate me.

Back at last nights meeting, after the other candidates gave little spiels, I stood up to be recognized, and made my argument to be included on the ballot.

With my laptop in my hand, I tried to explain that “this is my business, a cyber-business. My business is on this laptop, and it goes where I go.  Tonight,” I said, “it’s in Ocean Beach.”  I made a comment that I’m standing up for every mobile office, every consultant who doesn’t have a physical location for their businesses.

When it became evident that the Board was not going to accept this argument, I pulled out a signed commercial lease agreement that I had recently signed with a storefront on Voltaire Street.  I handed it to Musgrove. But that wasn’t enough.  Vaughn chimed in, “he didn’t have it on the 16th.”  So that was it.

Musgrove took a number of questions from the audience, and most asked about the election procedures and the bylaws, and most seemed supportive of my efforts.  Some complained – including myself – that the Council’s bylaws were not being made available.  In fact, at one point during the back and forth, Dave Martin, a long-time Board member made a statement, that because the OBTC is a private corporation, they normally don’t give out the bylaws to non-members.

So, without a Board discussion of my arguments, and without a public vote on it, Musgrove ruled against me. Finally I did walk out of the room with about half dozen supporters.  Others who had told me they supported me, said they needed to stay as their groups were receiving grant funds from the Council later on the agenda.

Earlier this month during a secret meeting, the Town Council had voted on who to give grant awards to.  The OB Rag had submitted a request back in mid-June for money for a new digital camera – we had actually been encouraged to do so by a couple of Board members. But in the end, by a secret vote of 5 to 4, the Board decided not to grant us any money.

With these decisions, it has become increasingly clear that there is a large faction on the Town Council who simply don’t like me, don’t like my politics, don’t like the OB Rag – and they don’t like us because we raise some “negative” issues – like homelessness in Ocean Beach. (We raise many positive issues as well, by the way.)

I’m really at a loss to figure out why there is so much hatred on the Board. Some fear I would have destroyed or taken over the Town Council. This is so far-fetched it doesn’t deserve a response.  But I and this blog/ website have raised issues before the Council, have encouraged OB citizens to attend their meetings and get involved.  Normally, there isn’t that much interest in the Council, and not that many folks attend their public get togethers. But the Rag has galvanized locals to attend and packed their meetings on at least three other occasions – not including last night.

Last night, there were about 60 people in the audience, including 8 who work for government who attended to give reports. (Late comers had to unfold their own chairs, as the Board had not expected that many to attend.)

In the end, the action by the Board last night was certainly un-democratic; it violated their own Mission Statement advertised on their (out of date) website. It was in violation of the spirit of cooperation, fairness, and openness.

The Town Council Is a Little Club

The Ocean Beach Town Council, in fact, has become a little club.  It doesn’t have that many members (3 of my friends joined last night); there is so little interest or caring for the organization in this community, that the Council has not had sufficient candidates to run to fill their seats; this allows friends on the Board to appoint their own friends.  This is cronyism.   The Board has ceased to represent Ocean Beach as a whole.  Overall the Town Council does some good things, around the holidays, the street fair and such. But in terms of truly and genuinely representing an entire community – they have failed.  They have failed because they don’t want anyone on it that goes against what the majority feel is their sandbox.

This is all very petty, and someone said, “this is petty, sandbox politics.”  But it’s also grassroots politics – and for a democracy to work, there has to be democracy at the grassroots level, at the village level.  Sure, the Town Council is a “private” corporation, a non-governmental organization.  And sure Jim Musgrove can have his way, have his little club.  And he’s entitled to it – he’s entitled to have a little club – call it the “Jim Musgrove & Friends Club” – there they can make any rules they want, help or assist anyone they want, go about their own business without interference from the rest of us. But listen, go do that, just don’t call it the “Ocean Beach Town Council.” OB deserves better than to have a little club represent us.  We need a representative body – and this ain’t it.

Why I should have been on the ballot

In case you’re interested, here are a few points in favor of keeping me on the ballot:

Election Procedure was violated by the OBTC

  • My voting membership accepted in May, my dues accepted and cashed.
  • My Candidate Letter was timely and accepted on August 16
  • My name was on the Official Election Announcement sent out

Business Qualifies to be an Ocean Beach business

  • The OB Rag has a PO Box and bank account in Ocean Beach – under one interpretation at least, PO Boxes are accepted under California Civil law to be addresses for businesses;  apparently during last nights meeting, elections coordinator Nancy Vaughn didn’t know that OB PO boxes have a “92167” zip code.  Which is what the Rag PO box has.  Is this why she ruled against us?
  • The OB Rag had signed a commercial lease agreement with an OB business/ storefront on Voltaire to allow it to have an Ocean Beach address;
  • The OB Rag, a cyber business, an internet business, a mobile business, is a legitimate OB business;
  • Half of our readership are OB residents;
  • The OB Rag runs advertisements for OB businesses;
  • The website promotes OB businesses and remarkable members of the community;
  • The OB Rag sells Ocean Beach merchandise;
  • The OB Rag reports on Ocean Beach events, meetings, and issues
  • The OB Rag has assisted, led, been instrumental in graffiti clean-ups, the clean-up last year of the Veterans Memorial, the cleaning of an elderly, disabled Point Loma man’s house, saving the OB Library, OB firepits, alley clean-ups, community forums;

The Town Council could have waived their bylaws for an exceptional situtation

  • As any organization is allowed, the OBTC could have waived their strict guidelines for business membership;
  • Since the issue of a cyber business is new and cutting-edge, the bylaws pertain to old definitions of businesses;
  • What the OB Rag has contributed to the community of Ocean Beach
  • My own decades-long involvement in this community; I was the Chair of the OB Planning Board, have sat on it for 3 years; I was a founding member of the OB Community Planning Group – a forerunner of the Planning Board – and was deeply involved in getting the City to allow for the OBPB back in the mid-Seventies; was a founder and chair of the OB Grassroots Organization which worked with the City Council to determine whether the old waste dump next to SeaWorld was leaking toxins.

OB Grassroots Activism Continues

This is not the first time a chair of the OB Town Council has stood in the way of community fairness and genuine representation of the neighborhood. At least three times in the past, locals have run against the intransigence of a backward or retrograde Board, or the chairs of the Board by their own actions made themselves the issue.  In 1970, Dick Rideneour rode roughshod over the Town Council; in 1972 the chair was Bob Miller, a member of an extreme rightwing organization called Posse Comitatus, and who caused a huge stir by openly calling for the expulsion of demonstrators coming to San Diego for the 1972 Republican Convention and their OB hippie friends.  Then again earlier in this century, OBGO activists tried in vain to work with the OBTC.

As long as the Ocean Beach Town Council has the name of this community in their title, they must be representative of the neighborhood that they say they stand for, and must present a local face of democracy.  It has failed in both of these counts.

To this day, the Board has still not opened their bylaws to show me just exactly what I violated by running as a candidate.   They need to be much more transparent.

The Town Council continues to hold secret meetings and take secret votes – that the community is not privy to – where the Board members talk openly of things, issues and individuals that they want to keep out of the public’s ear.

Open up, Town Council.  Stop your secret meetings. Display your secret bylaws for everyone to see.  Represent the entire community – even those you disagree with.  You must do this, and it’s up to the citizens to ensure you do this.

Or – and there is a way out of this for you – quit using the name of our community.

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