Lincoln Heights Block Club weighs in on proposal to amend its bylaws
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, April 2019) At its March 11thmeeting the Lincoln Heights Block Club members were asked to vote on whether or not to change a clause in their bylaws that allowed only members that are property owners to vote on issues concerning inherent property rights. A tie vote resulted in the defeat of the measure to change the bylaws. The vote followed an hour-long debate about whether all voting members or just voting members that are property owners should be allowed to vote on issues involving inherent property rights.
The motion to strike from the bylaws a paragraph restricting voting on inherit property rights issues to real property owners was made by Josh Rosen and seconded by Jack Duirk. With 4 yes votes, 4 no votes, and two abstentions, the final tally meant that the issue failed and the Lincoln Heights Block Club would not make a change in its bylaws, at least for now. Tremont West Development Corporation had requested that the block club remove the clause and allow all members that have attended at least three meetings in the past 12 months to vote on inherent property rights issues. All members that attended three meetings in the past twelve months were eligible to vote on the bylaws change.
According to Block Club Chair Henry Senyak, their voting membership recently dropped to 22, with 4 members out of compliance because of the 3 meetings in the past 12 months requirement. They’ll need 17 of 22 present from their voting list to have the special quorum and a 2/3 majority, or 11 yes votes, of the 17 present at the meeting, to amend the by-laws.
In October 2018, Josh Rosen and partners Naomi Sable and Ben Ezinga from Sustainable Community Associates sent TWDC Executive Director Cory Riordan a letter calling for a review of the Lincoln Heights Block Club bylaws and voting policy for non-landowners, asking to revoke their sponsorship of the block club if the policy wasn’t changed to include all of the neighborhood residents (renters, too) and making it clear Sustainable Community Associates would no longer attend monthly meetings or seek Block Club approval for future development plans. The real estate developer company claimed that the Block Club policy was “steeped in the history of classicism and racism in America,” and “runs contrary to any shared values of organizing values of organizing an inclusive community”, just falling short of saying the current policy promotes discrimination and ultimately discourages renters to participate in community service like volunteering to keep the streets clean and safe.
Tremont West Development Corporation has made repeated requests for Lincoln Heights Block Club to remove the inherent property rights clause in their voting regulations and comply with the inclusion clause or face consequences which could include a reduction or completely defund the long-standing community block club.
Josh Rosen made a claim that the Lincoln Heights is the only block club in the City of Cleveland with bylaws that prohibits voting on inherent property rights by non-owners of real property. “This is a community group,” stressed Rosen. “We’re not the Board of Zoning Appeals, we don’t have legal standing. Restricting voting to only people that own property, that’s not my values. There’s a larger principal here. Are renters able to participate in a community group, in all the ways owners can, or not?”
Rosen admitted that his lease structures tend to support a more transient population, with general leases starting at one-year, followed by a month-by-month lease, leading opponents to call into question whether or not such a population has the best interest of longtime residents in mind when voting on neighborhood issues, especially involving building and new construction projects.
“If people are only going to be here a year before they move on, they’re not invested in the community,” said Knoublock. “They’re here because it’s convenient for work or school but eventually they leave.”
Randy Norfus presented a different viewpoint. “I’ve lived here for 15 years as a non-property resident. I don’t expect to vote on things involving property,” he said. “I don’t own any property so why would I vote on it? I’m here to work on things other than that. I don’t have anything against homeowners. I want the best for them. In a way, we’re turning on each other when we should be working together.”
Senyak expressed his feeling that large majority of the Lincoln Heights Block Club members silently protested the vote by refusing to attend the meeting because they were tired of discussing bylaws. Only eleven members of the block club’s hundred twenty-members showed up to participate in the discussion.
Once the vote to change the bylaws failed, a motion was made to allow a designated representative to vote in place of the property owner, suggesting such a move would require notification to the Block Club in advance, either in writing or email.
The proposed amendment also suggested that the Block Club Chairperson retains the right to wave the three meeting in twelve-month period requirement to vote on inherent property rights in an apparent attempt to negotiate with TWDC’s request to do away with the exclusivity clause altogether in favor of a more inclusive voting process.
Senyak then asked for a motion to table discussion on bylaws for at least twelve months starting in April, essentially proposing a moratorium on open debate about by-laws, or until such time that it deem appropriate to have another debate. Several members expressed concern that an amendment to restrict the discussion on amendments was counterproductive and contradicts the essential principal of the Block Clubs policy on open discussion.
“So that we don’t fracture the Block Club more than it already is, I would like someone to make a motion that we do not talk about by-law amendments for twelve months,” said Senyak.
Knoublek made the motion; Georgiann Franko seconded it.
Rosen asked for clarification. “How does that work? Is there anything in our bylaws that prevents someone from raising an issue?”
Senyak conceded that Rosen had a valid point and he would address his concerns despite the fact that a vote had just taken place.
“We’re not going to discuss amendments to our bylaws,” added Helen Ibraham.
A motion to table discussion on amendments was made in the face of an already tallied vote count, with a second vote on the same issue about to take place minutes later, causing confusion among members about which amendment was up for vote.
“It’s not in accordance with our bylaws,” said Rosen. “Doesn’t anyone else see the irony in this?”
“I’m confused,” added Norfus. “I thought the provisions meant that you were going to talk about amendments for the bylaws so that it would make sense to everybody involved in this. In other words, if you don’t talk about amendments for the bylaws then why even have bylaws?”
Senyak commented that people were tired of talking about bylaws. As chairperson, he wants to get as many people in the seats as possible at the next meeting. Giving the conversation a rest would bring them back to regular meetings, he suggested
“Members are sick and tired of talking about this,” said Senyak, inferring that TWDC was responsible for bringing the issue to the Block Club in the first place. The results of the evening vote were the wishes of the people attending the meeting, Senyak pointed out, and may or may not be the wishes of the community at large. A compromise between TWDC and Lincoln Heights Block Club may be difficult to reach given the sharp ideological differences.
“The reality is that in five years, Josh Rosen may have more renters that vote on block club issue, in terms of our policies moving forward, and again, why shouldn’t we just one big happy family and try to find the things we have in common and use those things to bind us rather than find the things that divide us,” said Norfus.
A second vote on to restrict conversation on by-laws for the next twelve months failed with three votes in favor of the moratorium, five no votes and two abstention, effectively keeping the discussion as active as needed.
“I don’t know why we’re so different than almost any other community group,” observed Rosen.