Just a year to the month when Democrats rejoiced at the election of a new president from their party, the same can’t be said in Ventura County, as 2009 ends with the sudden resignations of a pair of high-ranking officials from a county political group.
Citing both personal and professional obligations, Jill Martinez, chair of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee (VCDCC), and Steve Brown, the club’s treasurer, both stepped down from their posts at recent club meetings: Brown on Nov. 24 and Martinez on Dec. 22.
Martinez, a respected Presbyterian minister with years of political experience that includes a state congressional bid four years ago, was previously vice chair of the VCDCC before being appointed chair of its executive board in September, the second person to fill the two-year term initially filled by previous chairman Joe O’Neill.
After just three months, Martinez has relinquished not just her seat, but her membership altogether in the committee, an umbrella group for other Democratic clubs countywide.
Martinez said it became quickly apparent to her that there was too much disorganization on the “e-board (executive board),” which includes up to two vice chairs, a secretary and treasurer.
“I find myself at a basic, philosophical difference,” Martinez said about her resignation. “I believed the work of the central committee belonged to the whole committee. There were some officers who believed it belonged to them.”
She and other board members, according to Martinez, were at odds about certain fundamental issues, such as voting on things like the allotment of funds for political causes, or holding meetings in private about public VCDCC bylaws.
Martinez believed that her attempts to mend the differences on the board were futile. Officially, the remaining executive board has not yet formally voted on her request, and she remains chair of the board until at least next month.
“I discovered there were a lot of people who were there and well meaning, but not understanding how the political process works,” she said. “Unfortunately, when we find some people who get into leadership, they want to be the voice and the leader and the director, and that’s not what you do.”
Brown declined to comment on his resignation, but according to Brian Leshon, the VCDCC’s first vice chair and communications chair, Brown, who also represented the club’s Fourth District, did not leave under the same circumstances as Martinez.
“He (Brown) resigned for personal reasons,” Leshon stated. “There are family and work issues that made it impossible for him to continue as treasurer, which is a full-time job.”
Brown’s written resignation was read at the Nov. 24 VCDCC meeting, and it was announced in a brief, anonymously penned letter received the following day by the Reporter’s editorial department.
The two-paragraph letter additionally scrutinized an alleged incident at the meeting involving VCDCC Secretary Ron Suckle, where tempers flared between Suckle and other members. Suckle, according to the letter, announced his resignation.
Martinez said that Suckle, who also presides over the county Stonewall Democrats of Ventura County, did indeed submit his resignation, which he later rescinded. Suckle could not be reached for comment.
Leshon, however, referring to the VCDCC bylaws found on the group’s Web site, maintains that Suckle only expressed his intent to resign during the Nov. 24 meeting, and never submitted an official written or verbal request for the executive board to approve.
But what worries Martinez and Leshon the most is not so much the contents of the letter, but its mere existence. (Both of the executives were unaware of the letter until they were alerted by the Reporter.) Leshon confirmed that the note was not authorized nor endorsed by the central committee.
Leshon also believes the letter could be the work of a “disgruntled person not happy with the central committee and [who] is trying to damage it with revenge,” he says. “They’re trying to do it in a public fashion.”
Because the unofficial letter was in an envelope bearing a VCDCC return address, with a Camarillo post office box, the vice chair hinted that charges of mail fraud and other criminal allegations could be possible if the letter writer is found, although no law enforcement agencies have been contacted by the VCDCC on the matter.
Brown’s vacancy has been filled by two newcomers to the VCDCC: new treasurer Michael Klausler, a former deputy director for Senator Hillary Clinton; and Carlos Lopez, who fills Brown’s seat on VCDCC’s Fourth District, which extends to Simi Valley, Moorpark and other neighboring areas. There are five districts covered by the VCDCC in Ventura County.
Leshon says he may lobby for the VCDCC chair seat once Martinez’s resignation is officially approved by the e-board. The new appointment to fill out the two-year term lasts until the next election of e-board members, which is expected to be in July.
Martinez’s future plans include heading up two major campaigns, one for Tim Allison, who is running for Congress, and Ferial Masry’s state assembly race.