East Falls Forward moves ahead with sneaky, “back-assward” plans to rally new resources and amenities in our neighborhood. WARNING: Personal views expressed herein, with no attempt at editorial objectivity. Seems a contradiction in terms, anyway, when applied to such an intimate concept as “home.”
If you were the newly-elected president of an established community group, how would you deal with the news that another community group wanted to organize in the same area?
A. Welcome any volunteers who want to work towards improving quality of life in East Falls, join their group immediately, and invite them to join yours,
B. Welcome the group to community discussions & invite them to join your group, but hold off on joining until you saw more what they were about,
C. Formally recognize them & express a desire to collaborate but hold off on inviting/welcoming until you saw more what they were about, or
D. Show up at the first meeting to pick at their by-laws, drop a nasty rumor & then hang around afterwards, repeatedly asserting this “superfluous” new group’s efforts were just a power grab.
Guess which one East Falls Community Council went with last night when a group of neighbors seeking a voice in community planning gathered at BuLogics offices to start up a new business-focused Registered Community Organization? Sigh.
Ah, seems the organizing members of East Falls Forward “disappointed” new EFCC president Bill Epstein for not being more forthcoming about their intentions to create a new RCO than creating a public website & posting notices on several social media forums as well as distributing printed copies between neighbors.
Further, he announced that “someone at the meeting last week” told him East Falls Forward agreed to keep their core group small when they decided to organize at an informal gathering at Billy Murphy’s — “They didn’t want too many to know about it” he told the room of 30-ish people.
What was he insinuating, I wonder? I guess he’s suggesting East Falls Forward has some kinda surprise agenda: HA! Gotcha! You’ve been tricked into signing up for a completely free group that requires absolutely no obligation from anyone! Oh no, you gave your OK to a basic set of by-laws with really no application until the group votes on what the next step is.
An audience member (and one of the “founding core”) refuted Bill’s rumor at the end of the clip above (01:10): “I was part of that group of twenty. Everyone I knew has dogs, and I’d been talking to everyone about it. It was certainly not something we were trying to be quiet about. I know I was actively trying to recruit, I know Mike was, I know Juliet was. This is something we’re all very passionate about! We wanted to get a big group, we’re excited about this.”
FULL DISCLOSURE: Steve and I are also members of East Falls Forward, and we were there at the organizational meeting last week. At no time did anyone suggest we keep a lid on our efforts to reach out to the public, and in fact the only talk of “curbing press” was to ask Steve and me not to add our opinions about EFF yet on EastFallsLocal.com until everyone in the community had a chance to read the website & hear what’s going on from East Falls Forward’s officers themselves.
Does that seem especially sneaky or underhanded? It’s not like any decisions have been made except the one to submit the paperwork.
But whatever, let’s begin at the beginning. These videos aren’t great but hopefully they’ll do for now — we had, like, a half dozen dinky cameras going, so we’ll likely add different angles and work on the audio, too, but meanwhile these should suffice for reference. By the way, EFF meetings are recorded/recapped as a courtesy for those who can’t attend, so they can stay apprised and hopefully join in conversations online. We’re not deliberately trying to make anyone look mean or stupid or unreasonable (if people wanna do that themselves, though, that’s on them).
I’ll recap here as best I can, for those who are familiar enough with my perspective to filter out the hyperbole and sarcasm as needed. Not trying to be inflammatory, but not trying to censor myself too much, either.* Just laying out my observations like we were catching up over coffee or walking dogs, please take me with a grain of salt — watch the video, use your own judgement — and sign up for the free forum to get involved or just keep posted.
MEETING KICKS OFF
The meeting opened with introductions, and then incoming vice president Juliet Geldi announced the meeting’s purpose to review & approve the by-laws and then vote the first officers in.
FIRST QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: How can we approve these bylaws that we’ve only just seen for the first time this evening? When we don’t know who is in charge right now?
Juliet explained a group of about 20 people have been meeting towards setting up the new RCO. Everyone involved in that group raised hands (00:40).
SECOND QUESTION: The print-out passed around had the word “adopted” instead of “drafted” for the by-laws — have these bylaws been voted on or not? Incoming officers clarified that was indeed a typo, and stressed the bylaws being adopted tonight are written so they can be amended by member vote at any time, so the wording isn’t such a big deal.
THIRD QUESTION: Who is eligible to vote?
When it was explained that the 20 members organizing the new RCO were the only ones technically able to vote at the meeting (more on that later), the guy who asked the first question followed up that this put EFF’s transparency up for debate (01:30).
At this point (01:40), an audience member called for a change in tone for the meeting. “I came here with the impression it would be a positive direction or change. People are here cause they want something different. They’re here cause they want to work together to move things forward. “ Without discrediting concerns, he called for everyone to be courteous to others for being brave enough to do what others aren’t doing. “People put in hard work, we’re all here for the same reason.”
“Speaking of tone,” a Community Council member (who btw abstained from voting) followed up (06:06), “You should begin with at least a summary of what it’s about. We come to this room we’re asked to sign off on some bylaws for who knows what the real agenda is. I’m not trying to speak out of suspicion but it’s just a back-assward way to begin.”
Annnnnd we’re less than ten minutes in!
In all honesty, the meeting hadn’t started off terribly well — the audience had a point, a recap would’ve been an appropriate way to begin. Wisely, Juliet decided to read the Mission Statement aloud, which led to clarifications regarding East Falls Forward’s purpose and how the new RCO differentiates itself from similar organizations in the area.
As an architect who’s been to more than a few zoning hearings, Juliet could shed some light on why the group wanted to create a new RCO, when East Falls already has one. As a Registered Community Organization with the city of Philadelphia, the group is required to be notified of any new local zoning developments — anything from new businesses coming to town, to upgrades and expansions of established ones.
East Falls Forward doesn’t replace the Community Council in any way, nor do they seek to. They simply wish to add another voice to important dialog concerning East Falls’ business climate and streetscape. (In fact, many areas like South Philly and Old City have more than one RCO — it’s not uncommon at all in areas of growth & change, especially.)
Juliet stressed how much the members of East Falls Forward love East Falls’ unique mix of suburban & urban elements. They feel the urban parts are under-used & under-served. EFF has a common sense approach — instead of developing new land, focus efforts to nurture existing business corridors on Ridge and Conrad.
MISSION STATEMENT QUESTION ONE: When you say “urban,” what do you mean? Is there something you want to change about East Falls?
Juliet answered that East Falls Forward members define “pro-urban” as wanting to fill empty storefronts with needed services and amenities to create a more walkable community — off the top of her head, she suggested a grocery and a hardware store would be handy although a Community Council member suggested people wouldn’t walk up our hills for such things. (04:20).
FOLLOW UP QUESTION: Isn’t this what the Development Corporation is supposed to be doing? Why do we need another organization?
Incoming president Angela Velez jumped in to assert there’s nothing wrong with another voice in the effort to support the same goals. Juliet pointed out there’s also a difference between a non-profit with a staffed position and organized efforts vs an organic movement from within the community itself. For businesses coming to work with the EFDC, what is often a tipping point for them is whether they have community support:
“That’s what we want to show and demonstrate, and also to proactively pursue. We hope to have conversations with current & potential business owners to discuss their plans, how we may assist them, what their concerns are for the neighborhood, and frankly to show support for those efforts.”
Other developments: EFF announced a web forum and stressed their desire to be as inclusive as possible. The same audience member who questioned the By Laws got hung up on whether signing onto the forum meant they were signing up for East Falls Forward, too (01:30) — kinda suggesting there was something wrong with counting everyone who signs up for the forum as a member, I think?
At this point, a different audience member spoke up about “tone” (oh-no-he-d’in’t call her a “derailer'” !!) and then another audience member pretty much said, “Oh well, that’s just how she is!” to which the first guy quite logically explained he did not know this person and prefers not to excuse her inability to control herself (03:00). Which makes sense to this newbie-who-doesn’t-like-getting-yelled-at-either.
Somehow this all led back to inclusiveness. The same guy wanted to know: are we SURE we’re being inclusive? Really? Cause those people in Abbotsfords Homes… No one actually articulated the issue so lemme take a shot: “…cause poor people can’t afford the internet” ?? Is that the story, here? Are there no smart phones in the projects? What have they got over there, switchboards?
Whatever: the officers of EFF underscored plans to print & distribute more flyers for future meetings, and get better at outreach as they grow as an organization. Which sounds perfectly reasonable for a fledgling neighborhood movement, IMO.
Before the vote was called, the incoming VP read a summary of the bylaws, including roles of officers and delineating boundaries. Proceedings were halted again by the same audience member who, turns out, was not interested in joining or voting but seemed quite critical of perceived “ambiguities” in EFF’s by-laws.
I think it’s important to note here that by this time, the incoming officers had repeatedly stressed the by-laws were not set in stone but actually intended to be tweaked to suit the new community of members they are hoping will join and participate. (Ya don’t get a chance to use the verb “harangue” very often, but here ya go, perfect example.)
As if to prove this important point about how flexible & inclusive EFF’s bylaws are, at the request of an audience member, a motion was soon passed to allow everyone attending the meeting to participate in the first vote. The new East Falls Forward voted unanimously to adopt the bylaws (03:22) and with a second vote ushered in the organization’s first executive council members:
Silje Roalsvik, Secretary (bio to be added)
New president Angela stressed a wish to collaborate with existing organizations, which are not mutually exclusive (04:20). She encouraged everyone in the room to participate in as many different groups that they feel can work for them. She underscored that East Falls Forward is in its fledgling stages — proud to offer transparency and eager to get cracking:
“What you see is what we have. It’s not perfect but we’re getting on our feet. There will be stumbling steps but EFCC is no better indicator of what will happen in the future. None of us is clairvoyant. We just want to be a part of the conversation.”
*also, please note this recap is still a work in progress, check back for more detailed bios of East Falls Forward’s new officers, plus other possible tweaks as we continue messing with the video, thanks!