It has been some time since I last wrote a “president’s column.” As we enter 2017, I first want to extend the best wishes of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) board to all members of our community for a fulfilling, healthy, and happy year.
During my nearly two-year term as president of SWNA, it has become increasingly clear to me that our venerable organization, so valuable to Southwest for so many years, is in need of a structural overhaul. As you may know, all adults 18 years of age and older residing in zip code 20024 are members of SWNA and eligible to vote for officers and board members. Every two years, our community elects four officers, and two “District representatives” each from four districts in Southwest that relate to, but are not within the same boundaries as, the ANC districts. This arrangement has served SWNA and Southwest well for decades. The extent of my personal knowledge only extends back three years—the duration of my residence here—but as a student of our history, I have learned from colleagues on the board and others in the community just how much SWNA has contributed to the community.
Times have changed, however, and we have had difficulty recruiting board members and enticing our “members”—i.e. all of you—to vote. Significant effort has been put in by certain of our board members to recruit folks to join, but this has had limited success. Moreover, these recruiting efforts are time consuming and distracting from our ability to actually do the work of enhancing the quality of life in Southwest, which is our stated mission and the reason most of our members joined the board.
When board positions have become open because of attrition, some have not been filled for years. Significantly, it is my view and that of the overwhelming majority of our board, who joined me in voting for changes to our Articles of Incorporation (described below), that the “District representative” concept no longer works well, in practice and perhaps not even in theory. Finally, many of the younger people whom we have recruited to our organization (and others of all ages) and with whom I have spoken have made it clear that getting immersed in the administrative details of running a nonprofit is not of interest to them—they are however, eager to get involved in action projects (which we call “task forces”) that do not require attendance at numerous meetings throughout the year.
At our January board meeting, after several months’ worth of consideration, our board passed two resolutions that we now ask you, as members, to approve. We believe that amending our Articles will enable us to become a more efficient and effective group in enhancing the quality of life for residents of Southwest.
The first amendment would change SWNA from a membership nonprofit corporation to a non-member nonprofit corporation. Quite simply, this would mean that residents of Southwest would no longer vote for the board. Frankly, in the last election, out of more than 12,000 residents eligible to vote, fewer than 150 did (~1%), and this was after a concerted effort to “get out the vote.” Although there may be additional means of pumping up the vote totals, engaging in the process of attracting candidates and then promoting and conducting voting is not something that our board members feel is worth their effort. Instead, our task forces will be our face and actively work to better Southwest.
We did not take the vote lightly to become a non-member organization but we feel that doing this is the only way to ensure there is a path forward for SWNA. If you as members approve the change, you would enable the current board to select the new board in March, as opposed to conducting elections across the community.
The second change would reduce the number of elected board members from 12 to seven—four officers (president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer; to be chosen from among the newly elected board members) and three at-large members. The selection would not be based on the residential location of the individuals, but would be an effort to find the seven best Southwest resident-candidates regardless of that factor. That said, SWNA would be committed to attempting to ensure the continuation of our heritage of a diverse board.
Via The Southwester and our SWNA email blast, you will be provided with the exact language of the resolutions we ask you to approve and directions on how to vote. We hope that you will take the time to do so in order to allow us to have an appropriate transition to a new board by late March, the time of our annual meeting. We understand that for some of you with long attachment to Southwest and to SWNA, this change may be discomfiting and at odds with your perception of how things should be. I can assure you that the board has given this step much consideration and would not be recommending it if we did not see this as a necessary mechanism to allow SWNA to continue and to best serve our community.
By: Bruce Levine