The Board of Directors on Wednesday will wade into a growing debate over whether social center meeting rooms can be used for GVR election campaigning.
The issue was raised at the Jan. 14 Board Affairs Committee meeting after GVR staff approved Friends of GVR to hold town halls at two rec centers this month to allow members to meet its slate of four board candidates.
The election begins Feb. 17 and ends March 19.
John Haggerty of GVR4US, an opposition group, sent an e-blast decrying staff approval for the Friends event. He called for sanctions against the group and its candidates and called for CEO Kent Blumenthal to be held accountable for allowing the meetings.
Haggerty's email claimed "the CEO's supporters and their candidates have been allowed to attend other GVR club functions to give presentations in club space and meeting rooms..."
Nina Campfield, a Friends board member and former GVR director, said those clubs and organizations invited some of the Friends candidates to their meetings. They only engaged people who were near them, and only when approached on the topic of the election, she said.
"Our candidates have been very careful to follow the rules," she said.
By the book
The dispute is over whether the rules clearly state where members can engage in GVR election efforts. The rules are laid out in the Corporate Policy Manual, Section four, Subsection three, which has two parts.
Part A states, "GVR petitions, solicitation of support or opposition regarding GVR candidates or ballot issues by GVR members shall only be permitted in GVR facility lobby areas, common areas, or curbsides and parking lots. Further guidance may be found in the GVR Corporate Operations Manual."
Part B states: "Surveys, opinion polls and questionnaires related to GVR affairs, and distributed on GVR property, may be circulated by members only after being reviewed by GVR administration for accuracy and suitability."
Blumenthal defended his decision to the Board Affairs Committee to allow the Friends to reserve meeting rooms for their town hall meetings at Canoa Hills and Las Campanas.
Committee members disagreed with him, but Blumenthal said the decision was within his right according to policy governance.
"My reasonable interpretation was to allow GVR4US, Friends of GVR – friends of the zoo – whoever it is, who are members who want to rent space at no cost, if they're all members, to be allowed to do so," he told the BAC.
Blumenthal and board President Charlie Sieck have confirmed the issue will appear on Wednesday's agenda.
Haggerty said the rule stating election campaigning by "GVR members shall only be permitted in GVR facility lobby areas, common areas or curbsides and parking lots," makes it evident that town halls in meeting rooms aren't permitted.
However, Campfield said if the rules prohibited the town halls, the group wouldn't have asked to use them.
"We're open about what we're doing," she said. "We believe that we're working in the interest of all GVR members. So we put our events on our website. The CPM is vague, and this is one of the consequences of not having an attorney work with you when you're writing policy."
Campfield said restricting members from reserving meeting rooms for GVR election campaigning is a form of censorship and should be left to the members to vote on whether the practice should be prohibited.
Sieck said the language is plain.
"I think it's fairly clear," he said. "They were reviewed at the Board Affairs Committee meeting and they chose not to make any changes or additions to it."
Haggerty claimed in his e-blast that the election staff prohibited a GVR4Us supporter from handing out cards promoting their candidates during the last election because it violated the rule currently being debated.
Blumenthal on Friday told the Green Valley News he didn't recall that event, nor did he specifically tell the person to stop. However, he said the situation is different from allowing members to use meeting rooms because they are not intruding uninvited on a separate GVR function.
Blumenthal said he stands by his position that all sides are able to use the meeting rooms for election purposes.
"Under policy governance they just adopted, the CEO not only can make, but is expected to make, a reasonable interpretation of these policies," he said.
Blumenthal said the rule is to prohibit the possibility of unsolicited campaigning, such as people walking into other GVR functions.
"An imposition," he said. "In this case, there was a private rental function like any other group, and what you do in that box is your business as long as you clean it up."