Cherrywood Bylaws Changes Proposed

Written by Rich Heyman

At the next quarterly meeting of the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association, neighbors will be voting on a set of proposed changes to our association bylaws. The changes have been proposed by the bylaws revision taskforce and endorsed by the Steering Committee. The changes fix some underlying problems with current bylaws around the issue of how neighbors are informed about the topics that will be addressed at the quarterly meetings.

The current bylaws require that every household in the neighborhood receive a written copy of the meeting agenda 5 days before a quarterly meeting. This makes some sense because neighbors need to know what will be on the agenda before the meeting, so they have the opportunity to be present if something of special concern to them is going to be discussed and acted on.

In the past, CNA has relied on the publication of The Flea in order to meet this bylaws requirement. While The Flea provides a crucial way of informing (and entertaining!) neighbors about important issues facing us, it typically takes a team of dedicated volunteers (“flea-flickers”) up to two weeks to hand deliver the newsletter to every house in the neighborhood. Items to be printed in The Flea need to be submitted several weeks before that, so that the newsletter can be assembled and sent for printing. All this means that our Steering Committee must set down in writing the agenda for a quarterly meeting up to 6 weeks in advance of the meeting.

This delay between the setting of the agenda and the quarterly meeting is a problem. There have been a number of very important items, which have come to light during this long waiting period, that the neighborhood was not able to discuss and act upon in a timely fashion. Because of the requirements of the current bylaws, the items could not be added to the agenda, since it had already been published in The Flea.

The bylaws taskforce, therefore, has tried to come up with a reasonable solution whereby neighbors get in advance the information they need about upcoming meetings, while also giving CNA a better opportunity to respond to last-minute issues as they arise. The taskforce assumes that The Flea will continue to be a major source of information for the neighborhood, including informing neighbors about items that will be discussed at upcoming CNA meetings. However, we wanted to de-couple the notification requirement from The Flea. Therefore, the proposed new bylaws will require that written notice of the meetings, including the agenda, be physically posted in publicly accessible locations around the neighborhood (for example, on a bulletin board at Maplewood School or at Cherrywood Coffeehouse, etc.), as well as distributed electronically (for example, posted to NeighborNet and Cherrywood.org).

The new proposed bylaws also spell out that the Steering Committee be charged with coming up with the agenda. Even though this hasn’t especially been a problem in the past, we wanted to make sure that no single person was in control of the agenda (in case a rogue Chair tried to keep items off the agenda, or something similarly sinister!). We also wanted to make sure that if the Steering Committee was unresponsive to neighbors’ concerns, that neighbors still had a mechanism for placing items of concern on the agenda. These unlikely scenarios are provided for in the proposed bylaws changes.

Our guiding principles in thinking through these issues were ensuring 1) that we have an informed and engaged membership, 2) that our rules do not prevent us from acting in a timely manner, and 3) that control of the items to be discussed and voted on be as open and democratic as possible while providing checks against manipulation of the agenda by individuals, however unlikely.

The text of the proposed changes accompany this article, as well as two “statements of intent” that clarify why the changes are necessary. If you have any questions about the proposed changes, or our deliberations, please feel free to contact the chair of the taskforce, (heyman@austin.utexas.edu, 512-744-3945).

 

About the Bylaws Revision Taskforce

At then end of last year, CNA’s Organizational Review Taskforce delivered its report to the Steering Committee. Part of that report made suggestions for revising the bylaws to improve the overall effectiveness of our association. The Steering Committee thus created a Bylaws Revision Taskforce, to make specific recommendations. Since January, it has been meeting on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 7:30 (sometimes at Cherrywood Coffeehouse, sometimes at the Fanny Mae Stewart Community Conservatory).

The purpose of revising the bylaws is to promote and deepen the democratic and participatory nature of our association, increase transparency, clarify procedures, and enhance the effectiveness of CNA.

In addition to meeting notifications and the creation of meeting agendas (see article), some of the other issues that the Bylaws Revision Taskforce will be considering are how committees function (including the Steering Committee), record keeping, and membership categories (i.e. whether we should have other kinds of membership besides residents).

Anyone who has suggestions for specific changes to the bylaws or who wants to be part of the taskforce is encouraged to contact the chair, (512-744-3945).

 

Members of the Bylaws Revision Taskforce:

  1. Rich Heyman, Chair
  2. Terry Dyke
  3. Francie Greene
  4. Girard Kinney
  5. Jules Kniolek
  6. Rebecca Kohout
  7. Emily Schwartz

 

Replacement text for Article V., Section A.

A. Notice of Membership Meetings

All general and special membership meetings shall require prior notice specifying the date, time, place and an agenda describing issues to be discussed and any possible actions on which a vote may be taken. Written notice shall be posted in publicly accessible locations no fewer than 5 days prior to a meeting. The Steering Committee shall determine and make public the exact locations of notice to be used for the year at its first meeting following October elections, or whenever a change is necessary. In addition, electronic notice shall also be posted to relevant websites and email lists, such as cherrywood.org and NeighborNet, no fewer than 5 days prior to a meeting.

Statement of intent

The intent of this revision is to ensure that appropriate notice is given to members of CNA of important items to be discussed and votes to be taken at general and special membership meetings, while at the same time responding to burdensome constraints imposed by the current requirement to hand deliver written notification to each household. This has proved impractical due to financial considerations which require that printing costs be offset by advertising.

The current system, therefore, relies upon the publication of The Flea newsletter as the means of meeting the delivery requirement in the current bylaws. It takes up to two weeks for the newsletter to be delivered and relies too heavily upon the availability of sufficient volunteers. Furthermore, the production process of the newsletter requires that all materials (including the meeting agenda) be submitted a further two weeks in advance of printing. In practice this has meant that the Steering Committee has needed to finalize action items for the agenda up to six weeks in advance of a general meeting, hindering the Association’s ability to adequately respond to developing situations.

The two important guiding principles here are 1) ensuring that we have an informed and engaged membership and 2) that our rules do not prevent us from acting in a timely manner. Therefore, in order to strike a reasonable balance between notification and flexibility, these bylaws revisions are suggested. The presumption of the Bylaws Revision Taskforce is that The Flea will continue to be delivered to each household in the neighborhood in advance of the meetings and will carry the expected agenda items for the meeting, as well as announce where the agenda is posted. The Bylaws Revision Taskforce intends that “publicly accessible locations” refers to places such as bulletin boards in public spaces, at schools, grocery stores, cafes, or other neighborhood businesses, and that grounds for changing locations would entail something like the closing or opening of a business or other appropriate location.

 

Suggested text for a new Section E. in Article V.

E. Agenda

The agenda for the general membership meetings shall list issues to be discussed and any possible actions to be taken. The Steering Committee shall set the agenda for the next general membership meeting at its meeting immediately prior to that general membership meeting. Additionally, upon the signed written request from no fewer than 10 CNA members delivered to the Chair (by hand, postal delivery, or email) prior to the Steering Committee meeting, an item for discussion or action shall be placed on the agenda. New business introduced at a meeting shall be for discussion only and/or referral to a committee.

Statement of Intent

The current bylaws are silent on the method for setting the agenda for the general meetings. Typically, this means that the responsibility falls to the Chair and/or the Secretary. Adding this text clarifies that the responsibility for doing so be vested in a group rather than an individual. This makes the process more open and subject to wider discussion. The provision for non-Steering Committee members to have an item of sufficient interest placed on the agenda makes the process open and accessible, while maintaining a clear procedure. The guiding principle here is that control of the items to be discussed and voted on be as open and democratic as possible while providing checks against manipulation of the agenda by individuals.

Additionally, the last line of the proposed text clarifies that members may introduce important new business at a membership meeting, but that that business is subject to discussion only. This provision is meant to prevent an item being introduced and acted upon in haste or under the presumption of expediency without being widely discussed or even known by members. Members have a right to know beforehand whether an item of business which might interest them will be acted upon at a meeting; yet, members also have a right to bring up items at a meeting which they feel are important for the Association to address. This provision seeks to strike a balance between these principles.

 

Current Text Article V. of CNA Bylaws

Article V. Meetings of the Membership

A. Notice of Membership Meetings

All general and special membership meetings shall require written notice specifying the date, time, place and an agenda describing issues to be discussed, and any possible actions, including the determination of a policy position, on which a vote may be taken. Meeting notices shall be delivered to each member household residence no fewer than 5 days nor more than 30 days prior to the meeting. Notice of membership meetings should be posted at Maplewood School 5 days before a meeting. When practicable, notice of membership meetings should also be posted on the CNA on-line calendar and to subscribers of the CNA email list, “NeighborNet.” [To be replaced by new Section A]

 

B. General Membership Meetings

Membership meetings shall be held at approximately quarterly intervals at a time and place to be determined by the membership at a previous meeting, or by the SC. The requirements for written notice of general meetings may be satisfied through an announcement in the newsletter. [This sentence to be cut to bring Section B into alignment with new Section A.]

 

C. Special Membership Meetings

Special membership meetings may be called by the SC, or upon receiving a signed written request from not fewer than 10 CNA members delivered to the Chair by hand, postal delivery, or email. Only the business specified in the call may be taken up at a special meeting.

 

D. Membership Meeting Quorum

A quorum for votes of record at a membership meeting is twenty members. With or without a quorum, “sense-of-meeting” straw polls are open to all attending.

[New Section E. to go here]

 

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