Last fall, the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) began a top-to-bottom re-assessment of its governing structure, an exercise designed to make the community-based organization more democratic. This week, that process came to an end, as the organization approved governance tweaks.
The new system is meant to give leadership responsibilties to a wider variety of members. In the past, some participants felt the CWG’s two co-chairs ended up doing the bulk of the work and controlling the agenda. But another proposal, aimed at proportional representation, went nowhere Monday night, in a session that ended in sniping and ill-will.
Shortly before the meeting began, two members, both representing large residential cooperatives, withdrew from the organization. In an open letter, Danny Chen of Chatham Green and Jeanie Chin of Chatham Towers, said:
As members of volunteer boards for our respective co-ops, we are forced to choose where we focus our time and attention. Despite our best efforts to open the organization to different modes of communication and participation, CWG participation remains constrained to the once monthly in-person meetings – with alternate meetings occurring during business hours. Our calls to open up the CWG mail list to facilitate member to member communications have been met with puzzling resistance… We feel that our participation in the CWG has been worthwhile. We have met some truly dedicated people who sacrifice much for our community. On the flip side, we have also met people from outside of our community with a disproportionate voice in the CWG. Navigating the politics of trying (to) distinguish altruistic volunteers from potential carpet baggers has been an interesting experience. The draft Preliminary Action Plans represent a good amount of work and captures some of the issues that are relevant to our community. And while we have often objected to co-chairs stepping beyond their roles as “facilitators” and instead acting like former President Bushstyle “deciders”, we commend all co-chairs, past and present, for taking on the facilitator role. It is a difficult role but we should all remember that when one makes a unilateral decision, voices are being silenced.
I would disagree with some of this perspective. There were some who felt the CWG needed a top-to-bottom re-assessment, others who felt it only needed a more defined Steering or Coordinating Committee. And I would say that everyone here was and is interested in the fullest possible, most broadly based involvement of this community. We do have differing strategies of how to get there. And yes, we argue. This matters to people.
In the meeting we managed to agree on a fairly simple structure and a better definition and means of becoming members. There were important pieces contributed by all sides of our disagreeing perspectives.
The chairs (both sets of co-chairs: Thomas and Jim ,Mae and Gigi) have been extraordinarily hard working, displayed enormous integrity and were welcoming and open to help and input. They have put in many hours of volunteer time while holding full time jobs. They deserve our respect and thanks.
It is not easy to make something work against the institutional forces at play here. Not the least of which is the harshness that gets batted back and forth among targeted groups. But it is a victory that this group continues to lurch forward despite all of it.
And what is at stake matters as much now as it did when it began.
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