Editor's note: The latest version of this article includes quotes from ERNC Vice President David Greene.
The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council is considering several changes to its bylaws, including one that would allow the position of president to be chosen by the council’s board instead of the wider public.
Although no amendment will be made without discussions among board members as well as consultations with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the possibility that the public might not have any role in electing the next ERNC president was one of the most surprising bits of news generated by Tuesday night’s monthly meeting of the ERNC board at Eagle Rock City Hall.
“We’re considering changing the bylaws to make [the president’s] position one that’s elected essentially by the board in the same way that the vice president and secretary and some of the committee seats are,” Sub-District 7 Director Michael Blanchard said while offering an update about a recent meeting that the ERNC ad hoc committee for changing bylaws had with DONE.
Why Appoint the President?
Blanchard, who is also the ERNC’s election chair, did not say why the bylaws committee backs such a possible change, although October’s highly contested council elections seemed almost certainly to be factor. If introduced, the new ERNC bylaw would enable the council’s board to bypass a public vote and directly elect anyone sitting on the board.
“What would happen if the board doesn’t like the way the president voted on an issue?” former ERNC member Peter Hilton asked after Tuesday’s meeting in an interview with Eagle Rock Patch. “They would get rid of the president and appoint a new one.” (Hilton ran unsuccessfully for president in October’s election.)
But Greene told Eagle Rock Patch that “appointing a president is standard in many NCs, and something DONE recommends.” Because presidents serve at the pleasure of the board, they can be demoted by the board, he said.
But presidents cannot be removed without “a long process that involves a petition by 100 stakeholders, a two-third vote by the board, and an appeals process,” Greene explained. “If the board doesn't like the way a president votes, that person will still have the same vote when [he or she is] non-president.”
Added Greene, offering what he said was “one of the best arguments” in his opinion for appointing presidents instead of electing them by a popular vote: “If we feel that a president isn't up to the task, we can replace him or her with someone who's willing to shoulder the burden.”
What is a Stakeholder?
Blanchard told the ERNC board that DONE is against allowing neighborhood councils to determine what a stakeholder is in an election.
“DONE has taken the position that neighborhood councils cannot establish their own definition of a stakeholder,” he said. “DONE’s claimed that a uniform standard was imposed by a city ordinance, and while they can see that that ordinance is vague, they nonetheless claim that is what guides and binds them.”
The ERNC bylaws committee has studied both the city charter and the ordinance, Blanchard said, adding that the committee “doesn’t agree with DONE that that definition binds us.”
But while the committee recommends further discussions with DONE on the issue of who gets to define a stakeholder, “we don’t think that the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council should pass up this opportunity to amend our own bylaws to prevent potential controversy that we experienced recently,” Blanchard said, referring to October’s council elections.
“We as a committee believe that factual-basis stakeholders should run and vote for less than the full board,” Blanchard said, adding: “Right now we’re considering options between one and three seats on the board that would be identified as factual-basis stakeholder seats."
Electing Sub-District Directors
Another likely change in ERNC bylaws will be that only residents of each sub-district be allowed to vote for races in their respective sub-district, instead of throwing open the sub-district races to all residents and stakeholders, Blanchard said.
“In the 2012 election, all stakeholders were able to vote for all sub-district directors,” Blanchard pointed out, adding: “That’s actually contrary to our bylaws.”
It turns out that DONE had rewritten the ERNC bylaws shortly before the Oct. 6 vote—but forgot to include the part about restricted sub-district voting, ERNC Vice President David Greene told the board.
“So we went back to the universal standard, which is where we are and which is why so many of us got elected by as many as 400 votes, whereas possibly only 50 people from your sub-district actually voted for you, if that many,” Greene said.