Written by Brooke Becher

A call to recall two directors on the Third Laguna Hills Mutual board is in motion.

Third Mutual members in Laguna Woods will soon vote whether to recall board members Robert Mutchnick and Lynn Jarrett, and at the same time, answer who should replace them as directors if the recall is successful. Jarrett’s term ends later this year and Mutchnick’s term ends in 2023.

Four candidates have put their names on the ballot to fill the potential seats: Mutchnick, N. Cris Prince, Karen Shore and Jules Zalon. Ballots will be counted Friday, June 3.

Zalon, a six-year Village resident, is leading the recall effort.

“(The Third Mutual board) stuck their thumb in the eyes of the membership,” Zalon said, referencing the appointment of Jarrett as a director in October following the resignation of Steve Parsons, after Jarrett lost the election last fall. “They didn’t care what the membership wanted, which is exactly how they have run things for years.”

Others in the Village disagree and have teamed with current and former board directors to form the dissenting Third Mutual Alliance.

“The recall initiative was ill conceived and has created a negative, divisive, finger-pointing spirit that can tear down a community like ours,” Third Treasurer Jim Hopkins said in an online campaign opposing the recall. “The recall effort has become increasingly nasty because it has been countered with credible information and forthright engagement.”

How it started

Parsons, a former director and past president of the Third board, conditionally resigned during the board’s Oct. 19 meeting, demanding his seat be given to Jarrett, a 14-year Village resident and former director coming off of serving a full, three-year term.

Residents lined the walls of an overflowing boardroom to speak out against the motion, likening the “outrageous” request to “nepotism.”

The board voted in favor of Jarrett’s appointment, 7-4, to fulfill the term ending in 2022.

The Davis-Stirling Act, a California Civil Code governing communities of common interest developments, says directors may participate in the selection of their replacement; however, conditional resignations are not considered in the governing documents.

The board treated Jarrett’s appointment as a majority rule vote, in alignment with Third’s bylaws.

The Third’s governing documents outlines three requirements the board must consider in fulfilling a vacancy: The candidate must exhibit expertise as needed, must exhibit special qualifications or must have qualified as a runner-up from a preceding election.

“Although it was only necessary to meet one of the options, Jarrett met all three,” said Mutchnick, who is serving as Third’s president.

The appointment, along with two failed elections to lower insurance coverage and assessment fees, prompted calls for the recall, its supporters say. Ultimately, the grassroots Good Governance Coalition wants a recall to restore fiscal responsibility to the board, an email blast to Village members says.

“Voting Yes for the recall affords us the opportunity to replace Mutchnick and Jarrett with two more independent, fiscally responsible board members,” the group said in the email blast. “We need (someone) to review our financial situation with fresh eyes and bring their expertise to the board now so they can influence the 2023 budget.”

Zalon said he delivered 679 signed petitions – double the number required by the Davis-Stirling Act to validate a petition for recall, which is 5% of a membership – to Third board Vice President Annie McCary.

Cost of the recall

The price of holding the recall election and the regular election to follow is steep, Mutchnick said.

“The sad point is that just three months after we complete the recall election, we will have our regular annual election for four open board seats at the cost of another $40,000,” he said.

The term that Jarrett is serving expires in October. By the time the seat is filled, the term will have three months left to serve, Mutchnick noted.

Jarrett agreed about the cost involved: “I doubt that the owners and members who signed the recall petition – which is definitely a waste of owners’ assessment expenses – had any idea of the cost.”

For members of the Good Governance Coalition and Zalon, fixing the current procedure, in which a board may appoint a candidate without election, is worth the cost.

“Yes, technically, our bylaws allow for a membership vote to fill a vacant seat, but only if the board does not do it itself. I suspect that has never occurred,” Zalon said, noting that every vacancy he’s seen since moving to the Village in 2016 has been filled without an election. “All they had to do was invite other candidates; then vote.”

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