NENA Town Hall meeting

2012-nbnye-ad2-clr copyBY ED FELIEN

The Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA) will host a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Keewaydin School cafeteria.
From the NENA Board to Southside Pride:  “At the meeting on Dec.11, the current board intends to fill the eight existing vacancies.  The board has decided to solicit nominations for open seats from the voting members and has committed to appoint the candidates chosen by each neighborhood.  To avoid perception of any board influence or bias in the process, NENA is working with an independent meeting facilitator and NCR [city] staff to run the meeting and oversee the neighborhood choosing process.”
The quiet calm of the Nokomis community was shocked into sudden high alert when the NENA Board, at its Oct. 23 meeting and seemingly without prior notice, fired its two staff members who had been with the organization for 15 years.  Three board members resigned in protest.
Southside Pride asked the board: In the absence of any performance reviews or objective standards the firing of staff by the board seemed arbitrary and capricious.  Can you, within the limits of employer-employee confidentiality, provide any explanation?
The board responded: “The decision made by the majority of board members was not arbitrary or sudden, contrary to the statements made by the former staff members.  The board had been trying unsuccessfully for many months to engage staff in a strategic review of NENA’s activities within the framework of the funding and resources available, and the staff was well aware of the issues that led to the board’s actions.”
The conflict between the staff and board now seems to have been a long simmering cauldron of discontent.  As revealed in postings on the Nokomis Issues List, Rita Ulrich, the executive director, had written a “whistleblower” letter to board members in January complaining that their secret meetings were in possible violation of open meeting laws.  There was an unsuccessful attempt to fire the staff at that point.  There was another attempt a few months later, but action was postponed until after the Monarch Festival.
What may have seemed inevitable to staff and board was shocking to the Nokomis community.  Some neighbors, concerned about transparency and accountability wanted to hold a separate meeting to recall the board and establish a fresh organization.  They have since withdrawn their proposal and canceled their meeting.
At this point it seems the NENA Board has made every effort to make their Town Hall meeting    on Dec. 11 as open and democratic as possible.  They have promised to respect the will of the community.
Participation in a community organization is a generally thankless task—long hours away from home and family and frustrating meetings, but active participation insures that everyone has a say in what their community means.  Not everyone can participate.  Not everyone will want to participate.  We should be grateful to those that make the sacrifice of their time and energy on behalf of our community.

One Comment:

  1. From Rita Ulrich:

    I am responding to the Dec 8 article (online) about the upcoming NENA Town Meeting, in which the board gave you the following statement:

    “The decision made by the majority of board members was not arbitrary or sudden, contrary to the statements made by the former staff members. The board had been trying unsuccessfully for many months to engage staff in a strategic review of NENA’s activities within the framework of the funding and resources available, and the staff was well aware of the issues that led to the board’s actions.”

    Every time the board comes out with another statement, I think, “no matter how often you repeat it, or embellish it, a lie is still a lie.”

    Yes, staff are very aware of the issues that led to the board’s action. However, no member of the currently seated Board made any effort whatsoever to engage staff in any form of discussion, strategic, constructive or otherwise.

    It’s a long story that goes back well over a year. I can’t cover it all here, but I have to address the claim that the board tried to engage staff. That is false. In fact the board went out of its way to ignore and exclude staff from substantive discussions. Consider the following:

    If the board tried to “engage staff in a strategic review …”
    – Why did the board have secret meetings for strategic planning and not inform staff?
    – Why did the chair ignore my requests late last year to discuss board-staff relations?
    – Why did the chair refuse to consult with me on board agendas including any strategic planning issues for the past year?
    – Why did the chair ignore staffs’ many attempts to comment during board discussions and refuse to recognize them so they could address questions and provide correct information?
    – Why did the chair allow the vice-chair to repeatedly interrupt and cut staff off when they were bringing researched information to the table?
    – Why did the chair refuse to address the issues I raised about policy breaches, bylaws infractions and possible violations of state statute by board members?

    After the April 2014 board elections, a few of the new board members worked hard to negotiate a truce. I indicated a willingness to work with the Board towards common ground, but a written “Truce” proposal was outright rejected by the board. Three of the board members who worked on improving board-staff relations resigned in disgust after the October 23 meeting, and I think that speaks volumes. And let’s not forget, NENA lost some exceptional board members as a result of that majority’s action.

    Rita Ulrich
    Former Executive Director of NENA

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