Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some objections to changes at Salemtown Neighbors

I've been a continuous member of Salemtown's first neighborhood association over the span of its relatively short existence. We have had our ups and downs over the years, and like many local voluntary organizations, we've often endured on the hard work of a core cadre of leaders who could always use more support from the entire membership.

2011 was perhaps our most trying and least successful year. There were successes. Salemtown Neighbors was able to act quickly after the historic Fehr school building was declared one of Nashville's most endangered properties to get our council member to support preservation zoning with the help of the Historical Commission. We also raised enough money to meet planning department requirements when the legislation eventually gets to that level. We hosted volunteer community clean-up days. We kept our financial house strong.

Nonetheless, we were weak in hosting social and service events that would have both given back to the community and grown our membership. Communication could have been better, and our business meetings were poorly attended. Our membership numbers did not shrink, but they were flat.

I believe that we have a lot of work to do in 2012 to strengthen this association, and I am committed to support reasonable changes to turn us around. I am on the Executive Board and I intend to do what I can to help make things better.

However, our new president is proposing changes to our by-laws that I believe are rash and lack diligence for group process. Originally our president proposed that only one members' business meeting, scheduled for tomorrow evening, would be designated for the membership to consider her proposals. Fortunately, at a January 7 meeting, the Executive Board agreed that more than a couple of weeks were needed to consider the changes. Now we may have 2 months.

My strongest objection is to a proposal to cut the number of membership meetings from 1 per month to 4 per year (the Executive Board added an option of 6 per year as a compromise proposal). The proposed change assumes that business can be conducted over the website and via email instead of in monthly face-to-face meetings. Online communication is a great tool that I rely on for networking with a lot of people, but it is not a substitute in a community where we live close to one another for face-to-face interaction. Moreover, not everyone is as comfortable with online communication and some might have less access than others.

I believe that the new meeting proposal also ignores the important connections SNNA has built with Metro's community police officers. One of the ways we serve our community is to provide Salemtown with a monthly point of contact with Metro police. Likewise, we convey to the police that we are engaged in our own safety and security. In my opinion shrinking the meeting structure weakens the community policing relationship we have built over the years.

I also object to the president's proposal to amend the membership dues by-laws to allow members to substitute volunteer hours for dues. My family volunteers consistently in our community, so I'm not opposed to the idea of volunteer hours being used to meet membership requirements. However, there is no plan or structure or volunteer coordinator to keep up with volunteer hours in this proposal. It is no more than a concept, and a wishful one at that. I'm also not opposed to suspending the dues by-laws for 2012 and pursuing this on a trial basis. But re-writing the by-laws on an untested impulse absent clear management plans is drastic and risky.

There are other proposals to re-write or eliminate certain parts of the by-laws that for the sake of brevity I will not address here, but I believe that any plan to re-write the rules governing our association should be submitted to a by-laws committee to be considered, studied, and discussed. When our by-laws were written, it took a committee months to conduct research, to consider feedback, and to draft them. It took several weeks more to allow members to consider and then vote on them. I fail to understand why we are not pursuing the same group process and timeline for these proposals.

In spite of our lapses and challenges of the past, I hope that we will continue to be an association that maximizes participation rather than overreacting and limiting participation. Any proposal to change the fundamentals of our organization ought to be slow-walked rather than rushed through in order to foster participation and to get informed consent.

Look forward to seeing members tomorrow night at this important meeting!

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are my own. The characterizations are not meant to be those of anyone but me. That should go without saying, but I also wish to make it clear.

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