La Jolla residents Robert Whitney and Michael Morton feel they should have had a chance to serve on the La Jolla Community Planning Association, so much so that the men are suing the city, community planning group, and its president.
In the lawsuit filed on December 5, Whitney and Morton allege that the March 14 elections were improperly noticed and rigged to ensure termed-out trustees, including current president Joe LaCava, would regain their spots on the board. The association justified the re-election, claims Whitney and Morton, by stating that there were not enough candidates to fill the number of vacancies.
But Whitney and Morton say a shortage of candidates would have never been an issue if the planning association had followed their bylaws and formed an "election committee."
Reads the lawsuit, "As stated in Article V, Section 3, of the bylaws, the purpose of these requirements is that 'the [La Jolla Community Planning Association] shall seek enough new trustee candidates to exceed the number of trustee seats open for election in order to allow those who have served for six consecutive years to leave the group for at least one year.'"
In fact, Morton, who wrote his name on the ballot on the night of the election, should have been elected and LaCava and fellow trustee Jim Fitzgerald, who had each served six-year terms, should not have been placed on the ballot.
But there were additional developments, according to city documents attached to the lawsuit. In the following months, one trustee decided to resign from the association and proposed that LaCava take his place.
Morton and Whitney didn't buy it. They hired attorneys to write a letter to mayor Kevin Faulconer detailing the election events and demanding that the election results not be certified and a new one — excluding termed-out trustees — be held.
In a June 2014 email, city planner Brian Schoenfish agreed, suggesting the planning association hold another meeting to fill the vacancy.
"City staff has reviewed the results of La Jolla Community Planning Association’s March 2014 Trustee Elections and determined that due to the resignation of two of the newly-elected members after the election but prior to the certification of the March 2014 election results, two open seats remained on the Board of Trustees. The first seat should have been filled by Mr. Michael Morton, who received the next highest vote total in the election. Since there were no additional candidates, the second open seat should be filled by a special election of the La Jolla Community Planning Association at its July 3rd meeting."
LaCava did just that. But Whitney and Morton stood their ground, again demanding that the group hold new elections. The planning group ignored their demands. On July 9, a special election was held. Three candidates vied for two open seats. Morton finished in last place.
The board certified the special election. Whitney and Morton continued to raise issues to city planners.
On August 27, former City of San Diego planning director Bill Fulton sent a letter urging the planning association to name Morton a trustee. If they refused, the city would decertify the planning association.
Wrote Fulton, "Therefore, based upon the above provision, the next step would be for City staff to schedule this item for City Council as an action item to remove the LJCPA as the recognized group as outlined in Council Policy 600-24, unless the LJCPA chooses to remedy the election challenge by seating Mr. Michael Morton."
The planning association wouldn't budge.
In October, planning association members met with councilmember Sherri Lightner, staff members from the mayor's office, and city planners to find a solution. They agreed to name Morton as a the 19th trustee. The position would be temporary, expiring in April 2015. In the meantime, the association would make changes to their bylaws and allow the city to supervise the following election.
This time it was Morton and Whitney who decided not to budge.
"At [La Jolla Planning Group Association's] regular monthly meeting on November 6, 2014, LaCava announced the results of the October 29, 2014, special meeting vote to amend the bylaws to add a temporary 19th Trustee seat. LaCava also attempted to swear in Morton as the temporary '19th Trustee.' However, Morton declined to take the temporary seat, stating that various actions by [La Jolla Planning Group Association's] trustees had reduced his term to several months in duration."
Now, the city and the planning association must defend their decision in court.
Due to the litigation, Joe LaCava could not comment for this article.