About proposing changes to the CNA bylaws

At the August general meeting, the CNA membership will consider amending the CNA bylaws on some key points. There are two steps in the resolution to be submitted next Wednesday:

  • It asks for the membership to authorize the Steering Committee to write proposed wording for the changes
  • It asks for the membership to vote on the changes at the November general meeting.

The three months in between will be an opportunity for CNA members to weigh in.

This is the current wording of the resolution:

Resolved that a task for reviewing CNA bylaws Articles IV: Membership and V: Meetings of the Membership be referred to the Steering Committee, and shall include drafting proposed amendment language to be presented for consideration and possible adoption at the November 2016 general meeting.

When this motion is presented, the membership can discuss it, modify it, reject it, or pass it according to the will of the majority.

How did this come up?

Right now, there are two major obstacles in the CNA bylaws that stand in the way of a more democratic and more functional association.

These provisions, though well-intended, probably represent some bumps along the way to becoming a better organization, and now the Steering Committee is looking for ways to fix them.

What’s the problem?

The CNA is constantly improving through trial and error – we try stuff, some of it works out well, some of it turns out to be the “error” part, but we keep adapting. So this is where we get on with it.

First, there is a provision in the bylaws that keeps CNA members from raising any new business in a general meeting that isn’t already on the agenda, which is prepared by the Steering Committee.

In practice, this works as a “power bottleneck” with some very undemocratic impact. It disempowers CNA voters by restricting their initiative.

Second, the criteria for CNA membership may actually be objectionable to some neighbors: our bylaws simply declare everyone in the neighborhood to be members, whether they give their consent or not. Perception counts, of course, and greatly affects bringing in active new members.

In a nutshell, the goals here are general meeting empowerment and consensual membership.  It’s worth looking at both of these points more closely.

General Meeting Empowerment

CNA bylaws establish procedures for announcement and posting that are meant to promote disclosure of agenda items to potential attendees who might wish to vote on those items. This is in Article V, titled “Meetings of the Membership.”

However, Article V also prohibits members from initiating new business that can be voted on at the same meeting. This delays action on the association’s new business, as well as giving the Steering Committee an unusual amount of control over what can be voted on at a general meeting.

For instance, regular general meeting attendees can probably recall at least a couple of occasions when a member needed full CNA endorsement on a time-sensitive civic issue, and the assembly was unable to give it because of the no-new-business restriction.

While Article V has strengthened the agenda notification process, it has probably gone too far when the cost is restriction of the democratic process, intentional or not.

Posting the quarterly meeting agenda shouldn’t be seen as a “window shopping” opportunity for members to decide whether to show up or not – it’s a way of encouraging people to free up two hours every three months so that they can come out and help shape neighborhood life.

If they know they can bring up new issues and initiate action, it’s all the more encouraging.

Notification practices need to be strong, but only just strong enough to be adequate. When this conflicts with the full empowerment of CNA members, empowerment should get the priority.

Consensual Membership

CNA bylaws Article IV lays out the rules for becoming a member. It’s very unusual in that it calls for nothing in return from prospective members – not even their consent.

The CNA membership rules offer no “social contract,” no incentive for members to get some “skin in the game.” No dues, no membership card, no attendance expectations, no duties, no value proposition.

The bylaws simply declare that everybody in Cherrywood is a CNA member. Inclusiveness is good, but this is surely a case where the spirit of inclusiveness has gone so far as to be almost meaningless.

This has some bearing on the association and its reputation. For starters, most of the three-thousand-plus residents of Cherrywood have not been consulted as to their willingness to be CNA members.

Many are unaware that they are members, and most are apparently indifferent about being members, but we have to allow that at least a few of our neighbors might be kind of put off to know that they don’t have a choice – that they’re members whether they want to be or not.

This kind of thing does not help recruiting, and it adds to the risk of the CNA being perceived negatively by residents who might otherwise make valuable contributions as active CNA members.

Civic organizations typically include member rights and duties in their bylaws, as well as criteria for becoming a member. They also keep membership lists so that they can give an authentic answer to inquiries about the organization’s size. This does come up when dealing with other entities, funding organizations and the like.

In such situations, and in general, the CNA would be sure to benefit from having a more normal and accountable definition of membership. Over the next three months, CNA members can put together some practical ideas for implementing one that works best for us all.



An active Cherrywood citizen for most of this century, Terry Dyke has served on the CNA Steering Committee since 2012.

One Response to About proposing changes to the CNA bylaws

  • lacohlmia says:

    I feel there needs to be advance notice for any agenda item where there is action. Many items need to come to the general meeting, presented with discussion and then voted on at the next meeting. The Steering Committee is not a decision making body. The items need to be discussed by the community. Any actionable item needs to have documentation so the members may read the information. Why should a few persons decide what is best for the neighborhood with the neighbors input or at least giving it a chance for input.

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