I need to clarify some remarks made in the previous email regarding Westwind Barn and Friends of Westwind. This email, will provide additional information, but also invites informative responses from others with a different point of view. All responses will be posted on the Hills2000 BLOG, available through the Hills2000 home page http://www.hills2000.org/ or directly at http://hills2000.blogspot.com/. This BLOG is moderated, so please make your submissions through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is this the right time to review the management of Westwind Barn?
For many, Westwind Barn and Byrne Preserve represent the visible picture of Los Altos Hills. The rural nature, open space, and pathway system, all come together to say who we are. For this reason, many of us feel that it is important to spend the $500,000 or more needed to renovate the barn. The City Council and Community Leaders have a responsibility to fulfill their fiduciary duties to the community and exercise sound business judgment and follow established management practices in a manner they believe to be in the best interests of the community. Don’t we, as members of the community also need to review the operation of the barn and ask the question of whether the needs of the public are being met?
Friends of Westwind is a private club that represents the interests of its members. It’s unrealistic to assume that some minor changes to the bylaws will change the goals of the organization. An operating agreement is being proposed that makes changes to the election process, but no changes to the current board. There is every reason to assume that Friends will continue to operate in its own interests.
The Town is reviewing the current lease, and considering an operating agreement that is being offered exclusively to Friends of Westwind. Before the LAH council puts their signature onto a new contract they have a responsibility to ensure that Westwind be run responsibly and that it presents an open and friendly atmosphere that meets the needs of LAH residents.
Friends of Westwind have operated the barn for the last 29 years and have benefited from a very favorable lease from the Town. The lease has been renegotiated regularly, and the bylaws of Friends have changed from time to time to provide more influence to the non-resident boarders. The non-residents, which currently comprise over 75% of the boarders largely operate and control the barn. The website http://www.westwindbarn.com/Documents.htm provides a copy of the current lease and bylaws labeled “Current Lease” and “1998 Bylaws.”
Friends of Westwind do not run the events that we are most familiar with. The Town with the permission of Friends runs annual events including Earth Day, Fun Run, and the Barn Lighting. The Town runs the Year-Round Riding Program with the Town requesting arena time from Friends. 4-H for the Handicapped runs its handicapped-riding program with specific accommodations dictated by the lease. None of these activities actually requires boarding in the barn.
Friends of Westwind holds a 10-year lease, however, due to recent lawsuits against Friends and the Town, Friends is in technical default, and the Town is looking to change the current lease. The Town is under negotiation with Friends on an operating agreement, the terms of which are being discussed in closed session of the city council. An early draft has been made public.
A Lawsuit against Friends of Westwind addresses pay and overtime.
In early 2006, problems with living conditions for the two ranch hands employed by Friends of Westwind was made public in the San Jose Mercury. It turns out that this is not a new issue as evidenced by a letter from Friends to the LAH City Council in 2001. (See http://www.westwindbarn.com and click on “Click here to read the FOW response in 2001 to the same issues.”) As a result of the Mercury article, the Town investigated the living conditions, and found the housing unsafe. Consequently Friends evicted the ranch hands with just hours’ notice. One ranch hand had been employed and resident at the barn for 15 years and the other over 5 years. The ranch hands initiated a lawsuit .
The ranch hands lived at the barn in order to accommodate a Lease requirement to provide 24-hour on-site coverage at the barn. Without getting into the legal details, the question as to whether the ranch hands were paid for the off-time hours they were required to be on-site and off-time hours spent tending to the needs of the horses, is a key issue in the lawsuit. (Numerous articles have appeared in the local papers, a rather complete compilation appears at http://www.westwindbarn.com. )
The question as to whether Friends can require its ranch hands to be on-site for specific hours, respond to horse needs as they occur, and not pay them for that time, is currently being litigated. This is a complex legal question, which includes issues with housing, but regardless of the legal outcome, this is simply not the standard that the Town should expect. For the council to say that a private club has the right to handle its own employee issues begs the question of who negotiated the contract with Friends, and who is looking to negotiate another contract without sufficient oversight.
What about the stories of starving horses?
Without making any interpretation about starving, let us just look at the facts pertaining to the Friends of Westwind disciplinary actions against one of its members and that member’s horses. A member of Friends of Westwind for the last 10 years, and a Board member for 5 years had lost favor with the current board for disrespectful remarks to the barn manager -- although specific accusations were never made. The bylaws of the Friends of Westwind, allows for a hearing where the charges are made and remedies up to and including expulsion can be made.
The barn manager, on December 30, 2006, provided a 3-day notice to this member requiring her to remove her two horses, which at that time were boarded and receiving 5 and 6 flakes of hay respectively. She asked for a hearing before the board to hear the complaints. She and her lawyer were excluded from a closed session hearing. The result of that hearing is the letter already posted to the Hills2000 BLOG which states in part, “we will provide the following service for your horses: 2 flakes of hay per day, unlimited access to water, and cleaning of the stalls.”
Also of interest in this letter from the Friends Board is the section stating, “All disciplinary proceeding in our organization are to be conducted in private. Our organization has the right to conduct any investigation related to disciplinary issues internally. Neither Friends of Westwind, Inc, nor any of its members have the right to make public any information pertaining to such issues. Please note that this right to privacy applies to both parties even after a member has been expelled.”
Friends may have an issue with one of its members, however there are legal ways to handle these problems. There is no justification to reduce the feed to horses under their care by 66% rather than seek legal remedy.
While this may be legal in a private club, it is certainly inconsistent with the open and friendly atmosphere many of us hope to see at a Town owned facility. We thank the horse owner for releasing these letters to the Town, the papers, and us.
Your comments and research are requested.
Once again, there is another side to each argument. You are encouraged to do your own research. We will BLOG any opinion and research we receive.
I’ve conducted the research herein, the opinions expressed are mine, and I will make every effort to correct inaccuracies.