MNA Board Elections And The Loss Of Virtue, Scorn From Membership

This post is going to be a rather long one as I will shine a light on a troubling aspect to the wonderful community which I am proud to call home.  The streets in our neighborhood are named for the signers of the Constitution.  Being a life-long history buff, at times talking about the Founding Fathers by their first names, and deeply wedded to a process in governing that demands for transparency and fairness, means I must speak out.  Walking each day with reminders of the people who gave so much to create a nation, and a way of making government operate is no small thing.  It may seem old-fashioned to convey such thoughts as I will in this post but this is how my DNA was constructed.  Frankly, we need more people schooled to view issues through the light of civics.

My dad–and yes–for the sake of understanding the intent of this post requires a short journey back to my childhood.   I recall dad going to visit a man in his home prior to a monthly board meeting of the Hancock Town Board of Supervisors.  The man had a medical condition that prevented him from being mobile and had called dad so to present his views and have them added alongside those who would be in attendance. I  could say that was ‘dad being dad’, but it also was something more.  He held to a series of convictions about public service and how one conducts themselves when allowed to carry responsibilities from the electorate.  The people knew my dad to be honorable which helped him to be elected to office for over 40 straight years.

So that is the stock from which I came, the foundation of governing which I watched play out from an early age when it was customary for monthly meetings to be held in homes of officials on a rotating basis.  A fond memory is being able to sit with ‘the guys’ eating a brownie mom had made for the board before being told it was bedtime.

Recently in Madison, at the Marquette Neighborhood Association’s Annual Meeting, all those homey images of local folks coming together for the needs and betterment of the area were spun on its head following the most unusual election of officers.  Collen Hayes, a current board member sought re-election, having her letter of intent read to the membership as she was absent.  Then things get needlessly murky.  After the balloting for this quasi-governmental board was completed word reaches the members gathered at the Wil-Mar Center that Hayes had somehow decided not to serve another term.  As a former radio news reporter who can smell a story, it was clear this issue had legs and would rush for the exits.

Within 48 hours concerned members of the neighborhood started working on a letter sent to the board.  For transparency to my readers, I note my name was added to those of others seeking redress.

We, the undersigned, are asking that the Board follow the procedures in the Bylaws to replace a Board director when they resign. We believe that following the Bylaws is the best way to provide for fair and transparent elections.
Colleen Hayes was a candidate for the MNA Board.  Her bio was read to the membership, and members cast votes for her.  A count of votes was taken in which Colleen was elected as one of the 6 new Board members.  Then, between the count and the announcement, Colleen resigned, leaving one vacancy in the 6 seats.  However, MNA’s Vice President announced that because Colleen resigned, the remaining 6 candidates were elected.
Colleen Hayes was elected as a director.  A director can opt to resign at any time, by a written communication to the Board (Bylaws 5.03).  When a director resigns, a vacancy is created.  The Bylaws, section 6.02, provide how a vacancy should be filled. We ask that the Board follow that procedure in selecting the replacement for the elected director who resigned immediately after the vote tally, thereby creating a vacancy.

The procedure specified in the Bylaws is:

Bylaws 5.03:  “A Director may resign at any time by delivering his or her written resignation that complies with the provisions of ch. 181, Stats., to the Board of Directors, the chairperson of the Board of Directors, or the Corporation.”  

Bylaws 6.02(g): provides that the president has authority to “fill the vacancy until the annual meeting next following the date on which the vacancy arose, provided that: (1) the president shall (i) provide promptly after the vacancy arises reasonable notice thereof to the membership of the Corporation along with notice that persons interested in being appointed to fill the vacancy so notify the president within a reasonable period of not less than 1 (one) week from the date of the notice and (ii) make the appointment promptly after such period, provided that the president may appoint someone, whose household or business is a member of the Corporation but who did not notify the president of interest in being appointed in response to the notice required by Subsection 6.02(g)(1)(i); (2) to be reasonable, the notice required by Subsection 6.02(g)(1)(i) need not be mailed using the US Postal Service; and (3) the Board approves the appointment no later than at its first regular meeting after the appointment is made.”

We ask that the Board reconsider the action taken at the membership meeting.  We request that the Board inform the membership of Colleen’s resignation and the date of her resignation as identified in her written communication. We ask that the procedures specified in the Bylaws be followed to fill her position. We believe that following the Bylaws is the best, and only, way to provide for fair and transparent elections of Board directors.
We would appreciate your response by Friday, November 1.

I have pressed the Board, during the term of President Lynn Lee, to create a cleaner, more open, and transparent process of conducting business.  In fact, it was almost a year to the day I wrote on the public list-serv in our neighborhood that the vote tallies for the annual meeting should be made public.  Lee, in one of his usual defensive modes, stated that no such data would be made public.  The vote totals from ballots cast by the dues-paying members would be kept secret.  Had there been an open process regarding the tallies from this year the members at the meeting would know that Lee received the least votes cast.  And it would have placed the self- removal of Hayes into a better perspective for the membership to consider.

Thanks to process-driven people, we now know the vote totals as written down by a counter of the ballots.

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I do not post such news for any other purpose than to shine a light on what is the right of every resident residing within the boundaries of this association to know.  The very thing I have openly called for over the years.  Being open and transparent, and being willing to place oneself before the voting public does not mean that only victories will be reported.  In all elections, there are those who win and others who we say thanks to for stepping up and offering to serve.   But NOWHERE should we ever except a weak reason that hiding vote tallies are designed to blunt embarrassment.  Good Lord, if a person is not able to be graceful in defeat after an election means they are most likely not of the timber to be capable as an officeholder.

The storm concerns the Board who argues Hayes did not resign from the board, but withdrew her candidacy for another term, leaving six candidates for six available seats.  Meaning that Lee–who received the least votes–would still serve on the Board.   But then there are those stubborn facts.  Hayes was not removed from the ballot.  She remained on the ballot, her statement was read to the members at the meeting with no indication that she was not a candidate.  Members voted for her in good faith, and she was elected.

Over the past week, there have been some very sad spectacles on the listserv which underscores the low regard that the process of elections is taken by some in our neighborhood association.

Hayes, had sent a note to Bob Queen, with this most unsettling message.

I am that candidate. And I did withdraw just because I am too damn busy to be on the board. I am a fan of intrigue so wish it was more exciting than that. And, Jack is correct, in all my time serving on the board we have never shared the numbers.

One does have to ask how her “damn busy” schedule was not known to her just mere hours–or even minutes–before the balloting started?

Then there are the words from, as noted on the listserv, Lee’s sister-in-law, Beth Rosen.

Three votes between Colleen and Lynn? That is the difference between them? ….The process was fine. There were six willing candidates for six seats. No candidate actually lost. The outcome is fair and just.

Case closed.

I am not sure how anyone gets so jaded that the absolute will, as expressed by a ballot box, is lost from rational thinking.

This truly sad series of events takes me back to the start of this post about the Founding Fathers who stressed the need for virtue among the citizenry, and those wishing to serve in elected office.  Virtue is one of those words that too few use anymore, but a word that the original shapers of this nation used often.  We can define the term as conduct reflecting universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to leading a worthwhile life and necessary when it comes to our style of governing in this nation.

John Adams is known as deeply molded to his strict view of liberty and order.  To achieve such ends required that virtuous people lead the nation, and virtuous citizens attend to lifting up those leaders.  Adams was always disdainful of those who wanted offices for their own gain.

“How is it possible that any man should ever think of making it subservient to his own little passions and mean private interests? 

How to channel the desire for liberty while understanding the passions of man, is why the checks and balances were applied so artfully into the construct of our government.  To control the factions, thin out popular passions, and allow for forward movement required a process of governing that would address differences among people.  The integrity of the ballot box was one such avenue the Founders knew to be the answer.

The local elections in our association are truly concerning to me.  In closing, I offer the words from President George Washington who gave this advice about virtue.  In his final Farewell Address, Washington united his reasoning on behalf of virtue and those in public office.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

That is why many in this neighborhood have taken a stand.  They may not phrase it as such, or ponder it from a historical perspective, but the seed of good governing still lives in the soul of this neighborhood.  That is why we have not stayed quiet this past week, nor will we be muted in the days to come.

May it always be so.