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Marquette Neighborhood Association Board’s Secret Emails Shine Light On Cloudy Process

March 18, 2020

Today the Marquette Neighborhood Association listserve had the following message posted from a resident.  We can be glad that someone made an error in sending the email out, and that it landed in the box of a person who then alerted the rest of the community.

I post it in its entirety, as this once again goes to to the core concerns I have about the MNA Board.  Lack of an open and fair process regarding matters which take place in the neighborhood.  The email dialogue that was hidden from the membership–until now–about matters than impact the place we call home.

I woke this morning to a chain of emails—I am not certain that I was meant to be reading along since I am not generally ‘in the loop’, but what I did get was disturbing.  I am struck by the notion that we need good, clean, fair elections where the results are respected in every level of government, including at the neighborhood level.  Read along with me as I break down what I saw this morning.

My Analysis:

Below is a recent string of listserv/email communications.  I find this string troubling in the following respects:

  1. When the MNA Board communicates with the Alder, should those communications be private?  (As you get toward the bottom, that issue seems to be the main concern on the part of at least two Board members.)  If a Board member is communicating as a member of the Board, that member is communicating on behalf of the neighborhood, so the neighborhood is, in my opinion, entitled to know what is being said.  (I remind people also that everything sent to Marsha is subject to an open records request.)  As a side thought, is the MNA Board under the impression that Marsha is just another member of their elite club and not responsible to her constituents?
  2. Call it what you like, but how much bullying should Board members be able to engage in?  Jack has done this before (think P&D “has become a temperance movement”), without any apparent censure from the Board, or at least not any effective censure.
  3. To what extent should committee chairs be required to add items to the agenda?  Lynn, back when he was still president (and a member of the executive team, which he isn’t currently? ), said:

I reminder to everyone on the [P&D] committee, 

Jack Kear is Chair of the committee and as chair,

he is the one responsible for setting the agenda, adding to it,

and is responsible for sending it out to the neighborhood.

This is how all the MNA committees are run.

  1. Is the neighborhood having a say at Landmarks important?  In the past, Landmarks was more responsive to neighborhood concerns than the Plan Commission – though that may have changed under the new Comprehensive Plan.

On March 12, Linda posted the following on the listserv:

The former MTI building on the 800 block of Williamson is proposed for demolition.  The developer, Brandon Cook, is looking to replace the MTI building with a 3-story mixed-use building.  This also requires the combination of 2 lots (totaling 97.5 feet of frontage on Willy).  24 apartments (8 efficiency, 13 one BR, 3 two BR), 1,040 sq ft of commercial space, and 18 underground parking stalls.

This will be at the Landmarks Commission on Monday, 3/16.  It has not had any neighborhood review.  The P&D chair said on Monday that “I spoke to the architect on Friday and they are not prepared to join our agenda tomorrow evening [3/10] so we will see them in April …”  Yet, they were able to submit revised plans to the City that were added to Legistar on 3/11.

On March 13, Jack sent the following to Marsha, with copies to Anita Krasno and the developer (Brandon Cook of John Fontain Realty)—though one has to question why he sent this to Brandon:

Marsha-

I have just been informed of comments Linda has made on the listserv:

The former MTI building on the 800 block of Williamson is proposed for demolition. The developer, Brandon Cook, is looking to replace the MTI building with a 3-story mixed-use building. This also requires the combination of 2 lots (totaling 97.5 feet of frontage on Willy). 24 apartments (8 efficiency, 13 one BR, 3 two BR), 1,040 sq ft of commercial space, and 18 underground parking stalls.

This will be at the Landmarks Commission on Monday, 3/16. It has not had any neighborhood review. The P&D chair said on Monday that “I spoke to the architect on Friday and they are not prepared to join our agenda tomorrow evening [3/10] so we will see them in April …” Yet, they were able to submit revised plans to the City that were added to Legistar on 3/11.

Linda

When she writes “It has not had any neighborhood review” she is blatantly lying. Brandon Cook came before the P&D committee not once but twice (July ’19, Sept ’19) and his visits were to not only present possible designs but to take input from neighbors on what people wanted to see become of that space. It was for many committee members a rare consideration from a developer. Furthermore, Linda’s statement about them submitting revised plans added to Legistar on 3/11 implies that there is some kind of backroom agreement between them and myself postponing neighborhood interaction. In fact, I gave the development team 4 days notice of our committee meeting and the architect was going to be out of town that evening. Simple. 

This project is on the agenda for us next month. It is unfortunate that we cannot hear it prior to Landmarks but that happens with many proposals. 

I wanted you to know this because the spin is quite biased. With this project, Mr. Cook has already demonstrated good faith to the neighborhood, not the other way around. We look forward to hearing his more complete plans in April.

Thank You,

Jack 

 

On March 17, Linda was made aware of this email and sent the following to Jack, with copies to Marsha and the MNA Board:

Jack,

Let’s see … I am “blatantly lying” and I am implying “that there is some kind of backroom agreement between [the developer] and [you] postponing neighborhood interaction” and my spin is “quite biased.”  Wow.

Yes, Brandon came and had a general discussion with P&D.  (I only find that Mr. Cooke was at the July P&D meeting – he was not on the September agenda.)  Did P&D review actual plans?  No.  Did P&D have the opportunity to comment on the plans submitted to the City that were due to come before Landmarks this past Monday?  No.  (Not that it matters at this moment since Landmarks was cancelled.) 

Should the neighborhood have a chance to review the actual plans before a City Commission meeting?  I would say yes.  If a developer cannot get a representative to the meeting, should P&D discuss the matter anyway?  I would say yes.  And Jack, I quoted your language:  “they are not prepared to join our agenda tomorrow evening.”  So if the architect could not attend, there are other architects in the firm, or Mr. Cook could have attended.  By not having a neighborhood perspective to provide to the Landmarks Commission, the neighborhood loses a good opportunity to try and get a project that is a good fit for the neighborhood.  And, Jack, based on your explanation of “they are not prepared”, it certainly seemed odd that they could file updated plans the following day.  I certainly was not implying that you had any backroom deal.

Perhaps next time before besmirching a neighbor, you, as a Board member, could take a few minutes and think about whether there is a perspective different from your own that might have its own validity.  The one thing I said that you took issue with is “it has not had any neighborhood review.”  And I stand by that –the plans did not have any review.  As to your statement that many proposals go before Landmarks without being heard by the neighborhood, I disagree.  I cannot think of a major development that went to Landmarks without neighborhood review – and they should not.

Linda

On March 17, Lynn sent the following to Marsha, with copies to Linda and the Board:

If I am following this correctly, Jack sent his concerns to Marsha,

and Marsha forwarded his email to Linda?

Is this correct Marsha?

This matters, the MNA Board cannot trust if we send our concerns to our Alder, 

they will not be shared.

On March 17, Jack sent this to Lynn and Linda, with copies to Marsha and the Board:

Oh Linda, you will spin anything any time. I stand by my statements.

Marsha, the board now knows everything we need to about communicating with you.

On March 17, Marsha replied to Jack, Lynn and Linda, with a copy to the Board:

I did not forward Jack’s comments to anyone. I responded to him and thanked him for the background info he provided and let him know I had met with Brandon and his architect and set up a neighborhood meeting.  That’s it.

On Monday, I emailed Brandon and Preservation Planner Heather Bailey to say that I agreed with staff recommendation for referral at Landmarks and due to Covid-19 crisis, I was cancelling the neighborhood meeting and asked that the referral be indefinite until I could conduct a proper neighborhood meeting. I will share that email with all of you.

Marsha

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