Orange County Democratic Party Treasurer Reggie Mundekis barely survived impeachment Monday night, coming within one vote of being removed from office by the Central Committee.
Mundekis, a controversial party activist, has publicly raised questions about the Democratic Central Committee's lack of transparency on internal finances. The vote to oust her was 33-19, just short of the required two-thirds majority.
Mundekis was criticized for, among other things, telling Orange County Democratic clubs the true state of party finances in the wake of the federal indictment last summer of prominent Democratic campaign treasurer Kindee Durkee, who also handled local party finances.
"People are asking about the financial condition of the party," Mundekis said in her defense. "We are perpetually out of money.
"When people ask us our financial condition, I should be able to give them an honest answer," she said.
Yet publicly discussing those kinds of issues troubled many party activists and officials. Monday night they struggled to balance the legally required discretion regarding personnel issues and the openness required of party finances and elections.
During the emotional, hours-long meeting, numerous delegates demanded that the entire election be conducted in secret. Other delegates demanded secret ballots, which was later ruled illegal.
At one point, delegates hotly debated whether two Voice of OC reporters should be barred from the meeting.
Longtime Democratic Party activist Marti Schrank scolded her colleagues for their penchant for secrecy, reminding them that during the last similar vote — to remove the party chair in 1996 — everything was done in public.
"We did not make anybody leave. The press was there, and they were never asked to leave," Schrank said.
Ultimately, Jeff LeTourneau, a newly elected Central Committee member who chaired the meeting, opted for a public session. "I don't know if you can hold an election in secret," LeTourneau concluded.
During the deliberations, which were limited by LeTourneau to 20 minutes, a sanction motion criticized Mundekis for processing payments to former party Executive Director Gerrie Schipske.
Numerous top Democratic officials confirmed on Monday night that the party was indeed out of money when Schipske's abrupt departure was announced earlier this year just before the Truman Dinner, the annual party fundraiser.
The official explanation at the time was that Schipske had simply left for a job at Cal State Long Beach.
Yet on Monday, Mundekis and others confirmed that Schipske was converted from a salaried employee to an independent contractor as far back as June to save money. According to officials debating the sanction motion on Monday night, Schipske's employment contract is still in force until 2013.
Mundekis defended authorizing the payments to Schipske, arguing that as an employee she was owed the money. She said that Schipske came to her with unpaid invoices for salary on Oct. 28 after being ignored by other top Democratic Party officials.
"It's her final payment," Mundekis said. "It's money owed. It's wages that were earned. You cannot take back wages from someone. It's wage theft. You cannot take money away because you didn't like their work.
"We had a valid contract with this person and it runs to 2013," she said.
Delegate Greg Diamond argued that "the check she gave to Gerrie Schipske was wrong, not because of anything about what Gerrie Schipske did."
Diamond said Mundekis should have been ringing alarm bells in February or March if she wasn't getting financial documents. He also criticized her for not being clear about the party finances with members.
"I don't think the treasurer kept us informed," Diamond said. "She had the responsibility to bring it to us back then."
On the other hand, the impeachment motion criticized Mundekis for making comments in October about the lack of financial transparency among party leaders and the network of Democratic Party clubs across Orange County.
Mundekis was unapologetic.
"I have been constantly asking for access to the party financial information," she told delegates. "All receipts are supposed to go through me, and none of this has happened."
She added that party Chairman Frank Barbaro won't even tell her the party's new bank account number.
Barbaro was not present at Monday's meeting and could not be reached for comment.
"I have never seen one single bank statement," Mundekis told delegates. "I do not know where your money goes. After Durkee and Associates went out of business, I stopped receiving signed copies of contracts."
Barbaro said county Democratic Party officials had opened a new bank account after the Durkee indictment. Mundekis said she wasn't included in those plans.
"It is illegal to go around the county treasurer," she said. "It's not a figurehead position. We have a lot at risk here."
Denise Penn, a delegate supporting Mundekis, said the county Democratic Party is facing a systemic problem, a "failure to communicate."
Mundekis has been barraged with questions since the Kindee Durkee scandal, Penn said, and "it's hard to answer those questions when communication has broken down.
"We are the party of the people, and we have to operate with transparency," she said.
"We need to start working as a team and stop being a circular firing squad."