The Neighborhood Association

Fifteen local residents, serving as the neighborhood association's board of directors, sat on brown metal folding chairs on the basketball court of a community recreation center, poised with the task of approving 2014's calendar of events. Eleven of them made carefree small talk, chatting about friends and family, occasionally trying to engage the other four people, whose statements were typically curt and disinterested. The meeting began on time.

"Alright folks, we're all busy, so let's get started and just get through this. Only one change from last year's events schedule, so not a lot to discuss. Did everyone review the calendar I emailed out this week?"

"Mr. Chairman, sir."

"Yes, John?"

"Before we vote on 2014, a few of us would like to reexamine the flat rate."

The Chairman rolled his eyes. The new, annual, flat membership rate for the community center had been heavily debated and finally approved at their last meeting. He shook his head. "No, John. Sorry, but we've been through that and it's done. We're here tonight for one reason only, and that's to finalize this year's events calendar."

"Well, I'm afraid we can't do that. We," he held out his hand and motioned toward three friends in attendance, "don't wanna vote on anything without either repealing that new policy altogether, or at least adding some new stipulations. For example-"

"John I said no to you already," the Chairman interrupted, "that's old business and it's done and it's not why we're here. We can't go backwards. Let's just stick to tonight's agenda." The Chairman's ten supporters spoke up in agreement, and the room's volume rose momentarily.

"Well if that's how you feel, then fine, but I can tell you that the four of us are all going to abstain, and you won't get the eighty percent minimum mandate to approve the calendar."

The Chairman frowned. The others looked at him, confused, and wondered what exactly John meant. "What's he talking about?" asked Bob.

"Come on, John, you can't be serious. Ha, good one! You wouldn't actually hold our community calendar hostage because you don't like our new membership fee structure, would you? Especially now that we've already notified everyone of the new system and sent out 2014 dues collection forms?"

"Not a joke, Mr. Chairman. We're serious. Reopen the dues discussion or no calendar approval. The rec center will be shut down indefinitely."

"But John, families rely on this place for after school care, music and art classes, youth sports, Saturday evening socials, fundraisers, heck we already have two weddings tentatively scheduled for next year! Would you really shut all of that down just because you didn't win your fight against flat rate open enrollment?"

"Sure we would. The four of us are members of this community and members of this board just like you, and we don't want everyone having access to every event in this place like we're some kind of soup kitchen."

The Chairman felt his anger rising and thought of Master Yoda, trying unsuccessfully to calm himself. "You elitist bastard. I don't know how you and your cronies ever got on this board to begin with. All you do is sit around at your high priced coffee shop and play your big money card games all day, you sons of bitches-"

"Mr. Chairman, please," said Bob, "that's unproductive. Let's try to figure this out."

John was all smiles at this point, pleased to have rattled the board leader's nerves.

The Chairman took a deep breath. "You know what, I don't see us getting anywhere tonight. Let's table this vote and have a meeting same time next week. Between now and then, I hope at least one of you will change your mind and come off this silliness. It's not silly, in fact, it's mean-spirited."

"Fine, Mr. Chairman, have it your way. But don't expect anything different to happen next week." John and his three coffee shop buddies left the room all at once, leaving the Chairman, Bob, and the others still seated and somewhat shocked.

"Can he really do this, Alvin?" one of the others asked the Chairman.

"Our bylaws state we need 80% board approval for the annual calendar, but this vote's always just been a formality. It's never been an issue. A motion to amend the bylaws would open a big can of worms. Between now and next week, let's just see if we can get one of them to come over to our side. Joey, you're friendly with Alan's partner in that new restaurant, right?" Alan was one of the three board members on John's side. "See if you can put on some pressure through your friend – if we get Alan's vote, that's all we need."

They sat around a while longer and cursed the coffee shop gang, plotted other ways to exert some influence, then went home to their families and told their wives all about the evening's drama. Within a few days, the entire neighborhood would know that the community center might close down for a year. Most adults pointed fingers, while most kids just tried to understand why their parents couldn't get it right.

6 comments:

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    1. So why couldn't the stubborn chairman discuss the flat rate ? You know, compromise. Try to solve the problem that some find unexceptable.

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  2. Could only be worse if they'd voted 41 previous times to repeal and 41 times came up short. Yargh.

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  3. Wow, what a stalemate, it would be nice if one of the coffee shop four came over willingly, rather than through the application of pressure though.

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  4. Sometimes others are just mean spirited - I think this was a brilliant piece!

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  5. A beautifully clear illustration. Yeah, this new habit of finding loopholes-which-aren't-really-loopholes to subvert democratic structures -- because the shutdown certainly isn't the only example, although it's a huge one -- really sucks. It's like we need to add a rule to all the constitutions and rules of parliament in the world saying, "And no acting Member shall act like a jerk."

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