No More Status Quo?

No More Status Quo?

MVCCA’s 2007 co-chairs promise egalitarian structure and more participation.

Thirty nine neighborhood association presidents voted for new leadership at the November meeting of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizen’s Associations. This was an unprecedented turnout for the district’s umbrella group for neighborhood associations, according to Dan Burrier, the president of the Mount Zephyr Citizens Association and one of three MVCCA members elected to be 2007 co-chairs. “We got all the presidents who supported change to come,” he said. “We filled the house.”

Burrier also cited the total number of people at the meeting, 83 (less than half of whom could actually vote) as evidence that the community is eager for the agenda outlined by himself and his new colleagues, Dan Rinzel and Tim Sargeant. The losing candidate was incumbent co-chair Bob Reynolds.

Burrier said he had heard a refrain of requests from neighborhood association presidents that the MVCCA needs to expand its number of member associations, that it needs to encourage more participation from all members, and that meetings and committees should be more structured. The MVCCA holds no legislative authority, but its resolutions influence elected officials and county staff.

In his speech before the council, Rinzel, the president of the Mount Vernon Civic Association, said that in recent years he’s noted a drop-off in attendance and interest at meetings and added “I would hope if I get elected to this position to help rejuvenate things a bit.”

He said that as a co-chair he would accomplish this not by wielding greater influence over the body, but by allowing more voices to be heard. “I don’t think that being a co-chair ought to be a particularly powerful position.”

He added with a chuckle that his experience guiding other boards, including the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, has given him the tools to help meetings run smoothly. “I have some familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order and by gosh we’re going to enforce them!”

In his speech, Sargeant continued some of the same themes. “When you take a leadership role you lose a voice so to speak,” he said. “You are also meant to make the civic process accessible to all citizens.” He added that it was important to encourage participation from more citizens associations.

In his speech, Reynolds cited a co-chair’s responsibility to “keep the machine running” behind the scenes. “If you try to do it right it takes a lot of time.”

He agreed with the other candidates on the role of a co-chair. “We don’t have a voice. We coordinate the activities of the board and of the council so that you have a voice.”

REFERRING TO THE ELECTION as a “mandate for change,” Burrier said he’d met with 31 association presidents in the run-up to the election, and that the candidacies of the three winning nominees were predicated on the concerns of member presidents. He said that alterations to the status quo — including strengthening procedural mechanisms at meetings and possibly changing the leadership of some of the 10 committees within the council — are needed to end what he saw as a tendency towards “an agenda of the few” instead of the majority. He also said committees need to establish criteria for approval so that developers and others seeking committee approval will not have to spend many months and thousands of dollars responding to the changing whims of committee members. “If it’s just ad hoc we don’t go anyplace. We just spin in circles,” Burrier said.

Jerry Ireland, the president of the United Voice at King’s Crossing Community Association and one of five members of the co-chair nominating committee, said he also spoke to presidents about the leadership they wanted. He said everyone on this year’s slate of candidates was eager to fill the role.

He agreed that the members voted for change. “The vast majority of the presidents made a big statement that the status quo and the way things have been isn’t really good enough.” He said that Reynold’s unsuccessful effort was the first time in the council’s history that a co-chair’s re-election bid had failed.

Ireland added that he’d heard concerns that the council was being too reactive, “instead of really getting out there and getting involved in the planning process.”