Controversy embroils coordinating council

DOWNEY - The official line told the few curious souls who noticed the obvious absence of the outgoing president, Leonard Zuniga, at the well-attended 57th annual Community Service Awards and Installation Dinner on May 12 and hosted by the Downey Coordinating Council was that he was "under the weather."A handful of members, however, knew otherwise. Lois Buchanan, who for a number of years has been actively involved with Coordinating Council affairs and was again this year's banquet chairman ("Something I really enjoy doing"), had lately engaged Zuniga in "a war of words" that turned on the issue of Zuniga's legitimacy as rightful president, or indeed even as a member, because, in Buchanan's words, "He hasn't paid his dues for two years, and because of this, and the by-laws are clear on this, he can no longer be considered a member in good standing." She added that Zuniga was wont to "do his own thing, had no regard for the by-laws, and was very defiant when advised of these matters." The tension between the two had risen to such a level that Buchanan, heretofore known for her active involvement since 1965 with the Second Century Foundation, obtained a temporary restraining order the day before the banquet from the Norwalk Superior Court to prevent possible harassment by Zuniga at the banquet and to "protect the 243 guests from potential embarrassment." There was already palpable tension between her and Zuniga at the start of the organization's last official business meeting on May 4. As soon as Zuniga went up front and tried to conduct business, most of the membership present, led by Buchanan, walked out to re-congregate at another room. Zuniga assumed the group 'walked out' to pore over details of the upcoming May 12 banquet and went about his business. In any case, a couple of Downey police officers (requested by Buchanan) stood outside the Barbara J. Riley Community Center (where the group meets on a designated Wednesday each month) ostensibly to "keep the peace, just in case." The roots of what can be surmised on several levels as a clash of personalities, or of perceptions, or of principles, can be traced several weeks before. It seems that a wrong word here and there uttered by Zuniga, or ignoring her altogether, had touched off a strong accusatory reaction from Buchanan, as reflected in this e-mail to him dated May 4, selected excerpts from which follow: "[This is] how I feel about a few things. I don't appreciate your nasty scathing email about me being very disrespectful to you and all the other incorrect 'stuff'… If you recall reminding you about guidelines and by-laws being disrespectful then I am… I seem to be the only one in D.C.C. to correct you. That's because it is the responsibility of all members and the executive board to protect this organization and see that it is run correctly. For two years you have not followed any by-laws because you have not read them and you told me you did not need to because it was the president who does what he feels is the right to do. How wrong you are. You have created many problems and have not conducted yourself as a president should. "In Feb. I mentioned to you at the March meeting we need to vote on the honoree for D.C.C. and take a picture. Was ignored. "I mentioned to you after that meeting it should be done at the April meeting. Ignored. "In April you would not announce the new officers according to our by-laws. I mentioned to you [that] since the membership could not vote on the honoree we should not have one. Instead you asked the board to send you three names each and you selected a person. This was wrong. You knew the bio deadline was due April 10th.You ignored that…. You have made many areas very difficult for me when you knew better. You think you can do whatever you want, and you do with no respect to me or any of the members…. "Well, at this time I am telling you, you are not a member of D.C.C. You have not paid your dues for two years, how dishonest is that? The nerve of you to stand before this membership and play 'president' for two years. How wrong is that? You have no conscience…..etc., etc." I read these excerpts to Zuniga. This was his reply: "She was constantly looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do. Basically she wanted to run the meeting herself. Frankly I don't really know why all of a sudden she decided to bring these matters up. I'm the president and I know I've been doing my job legally. And I'm a member of good standing." Elaborating, Zuniga, who has been engaged independently for several years now in the practice of Social Security law, further explained: "I consider myself a bona fide member of the D.C.C., and been president for two years now. My job is to run the meetings. If anybody wants me to pay my dues, it would have to be the Coordinating Council. If I were to pay the dues myself, I'd in effect be paying myself. Anyway, in this matter, it is [standard operating procedure] to have the club you represent pay the dues. In my case, during the last year I've been the alternate representative for the Lions Club. (The annual membership fee was originally $15; it's now $20.) I've never been asked by any member, or the executive board, to pay any membership fees until now." The two have been ordered to a court hearing before Judge B. Gonzales on June 3 at Norwalk Superior Court to settle their dispute. Depending on the judge's ruling, Zuniga says he's ready to go to court and enjoin Buchanan to give up her membership in the Coordinating Council and "prevent her from joining same because of her negative actions and her pattern of disruptive behavior." If need be, Buchanan says she can seek an extension of the original temporary five-hour injunction she got for last May 12. The honorees at the banquet, meanwhile, included: Ilda Vaja (American Business Women's Association-El Dorado Chapter), AnnaMarie Brislin (Aerospace Legacy Foundation), Adele Alexander (Assistance League of Downey), Steven Marroquin (Columbia Memorial Space Center), Robert Zavala (Downey Chamber of Commerce), Dalya Graciano (Downey City Library), Barbara Emry (Downey Coordinating Council), Bessie Gonos (Downey Emblem Club (#309), Nancy Luna (Downey Family YMCA), Stan Hanstad (Downey Federal Credit Union), Julie Konkol (Downey Newcomers Club), Fran Reveley (Downey Regional Medical Center Auxiliary), Jean Brown (Downey Regional Medical Center), Oscar Camacho (Downey Rose Float Association), Dr. and Mrs. John Keipp (Downey Symphonic Society), Carol Kearns (Downey Symphony Guild), Brenda Warner (Downey United Methodist Church), Sharon Macias (Friends of the Downey City Library), Dr. Mary Stauffer (Gangs Out of Downey), Sean Ashton (Keep Downey Beautiful), Sandy Esslinger (Downey Lions Club), Elaine Krupp (Living Help Center), Paula Mayfield (O.L.P.H. Women's Guild), Mark Sauter (Optimist Club of Downey), Debra K. Loera (Polio Survivors Association), Linda Kennedy (P.T.A. HELPS), Red Cross Club (Warren High), Mia Vasquez (Soroptimist International of Downey), Julie Helm (TLC Family Resource Center), Julie Hale (Together for Hope), and Joan Rasmussen (Women's Club of Downey). The D.C.C. incoming officers are: Cindy Galindo, president; Cleola Brown, first vice-president; Paula Mejia, second vice-president; Kathy Blackburn, secretary; Carol Rowland, treasurer; and Christie Pearce, auditor.

********** Published: May 19, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 5