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As previously mentioned in comments, there are fishy things going on behind the scenes since before the Coalition for a Better Acre’s recent annual meeting, and I’ve been talking to people to try and find out some sort of coherent storyline.
First and foremost was my personal experience. That meeting and the voting was packed - perhaps three times or more the numbers from previous annual meetings. There were voting booths and marks on the hand (as if they expected cheating). It was quite insane and unexpected, given that I’ve been to these meetings before.
More importantly, besides seeing many of the same people I am familiar with who’ve cared a great deal about the CBA over the years, I saw scores of new faces, people whom had, so far as I could tell, no ties to the CBA. I wondered who they were, and why they would care about this annual meeting and board election. I believe I have an answer of sorts.
It would seem that members of St. Patrick’s church were there in numbers at the CBA annual meeting. As many of those people are Acre residents, they have every right, of course, as does any resident or worker of Lowell. But my first thought was, what would get people who are unfamiliar with the CBA (indeed, many indicated no knowledge at all about the CBA) out to vote for a slate of board members for said organization, standing in line for hours on a late Saturday afternoon? What could they possibly feel was so important? That bugged me, until the reports trickled in to me.
It appears that many church members were falsely under the impression that if they did not show up to vote “appropriately” (ie for the slate of board members supported by the Director), that their own church was somehow in jeopardy. Indeed, I am given to understand that letters went out from the pastor, and “house meetings” were held with the church’s Sisters, to give this information out. If the leadership at St. Patrick’s did actually mislead their membership into believing that the CBA board vote had anything to do with the church’s own funding, that is a grave abuse of church resources, authority, and of the very decency with which we all hope that a church is conducted. What is more, I am told that the church put up much of the funding for the “campaign” for the pro-director slate of board candidates. If I were the Church, or its membership, I would be questioning the appropriateness of conducting what was essentially a political campaign with Church funds.
This would, of course, explain the large turnout of unassociated church members. If I were told that my church might close pending a vote one way or another, I would certainly give up a few hours of my life to ensure that would not happen. To be deceived on this level I can’t even imagine. Democracy is not best served with divisive and dishonest tactics such as these, and though the turnout for the annual meeting was the largest ever, I do not believe that the vote was either fair nor representative.
That isn’t the end of this saga, however. The vote that day, with church members and city and bank employees showing up to outnumber community members (of which there were an astounding number as well), was never tallied publically (ie as far as I know, they never published the results). Why wouldn’t they? Perhaps to keep the “other side” in the dark as to how high their own vote count actually was, or how close the election was.
But things have gone downhill from there. It appears that the CBA Board meeting, scheduled for this evening, has been closed to the public. This is completely unusual, because all board meetings until this point have been open. It is part of the bylaws of the organization (unless they have secretly changed these somehow, which isn’t a good thing). It makes me wonder: if the powers that be are not afraid of what they did, why close the meeting?
On top of this, there have been other violations of the makeup of the board:
The President of the North Canal Tenants Council is afforded a seat on the board. That individual has been very ill over the past year, and according to the bylaws she has a right to designate someone in her stead. We have been told that person will not be allowed into the meeting tonight.
One of the Committees of the CBA, the Acre Neighborhood Committee (ANC), has the right to vote two of its members onto the new board. That committee typically had had around 25 members at any give time. The ANC had been inactive for the past year due to the C.A.S.A. affordable housing campaign, which shared many of the ANC’s goals, making the Committee’s actions a bit redundant. At the last Board meeting, it was stated that the ANC was no longer meeting, but since then, two people have “appointed” themselves as the new board members out of the blue. They claim to have announced that meeting where this happened in the newspaper (where, of course, barely anyone would see it). Previously, the ANC announced its meetings with postcards to its members and other ways to ensure as many members as possible would attend.
Members of the CBA who were active ANC members before it stopped meeting met recently, with the goal of truly electing (via Robert’s Rules of order, ballots, etc) their two representatives to the Board. That meeting had 22 members present. The two elected by the real members of the committee will be attending tonight’s “closed” board meeting, where it is expected they will be turned away and thrown out, as will the Tenant’s Council’s appointed representative. I will of course be updated.
Again, there may be some sort of argument for a transition of the CBA’s longstanding culture of organizing the city’s most vulnerable residents. However, I have never seen it argued; and what’s more, neither have the hardworking people who have been members of the CBA and its heart for many years. They have constantly felt shut out of this process since long before CBA employees were fired. That is at the very least a total failure of leadership. The residents who are upset are all very dedicated and would have loved nothing more than to feel that the CBA still belonged to its membership.
Between the alleged trickery by a respected leader of a congregation and the shutout tactics which violate not only the spirit in which the CBA was founded, but its very bylaws, I can only come to the conclusion that there is no good argument for the actions which have been taken by the director. It has been a sad turn of events which has made community activists enemies with the organization which once embraced them, and I for one am weary of seeing local organizations destroyed by leadership which fails to convince people of the veracity of their actions, and instead uses dirty tactics and violations of trust to achieve victory.
Is the CBA lost? Has the city and the business community decided to side with the more corporate top-down structure that the CBA has become? I don’t know. I hope that people will give the disenfranchised and less powerful community a chance to come to the table, but I am not holding my breath.
More to come as I encounter it…
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