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NENA Board appoints 8 new board members following community input

Posted on 05 January 2015 by robwas66

Board was down to under half-strength after members resign in wake of staff terminations


NENA volunteer and new board member Chris Becker (left) mans a table at the NENA meeting at Keewaydin School on Dec. 11, 2014. Signing in is NENA resident and former NENA employee Doug Walters. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)


Eight new board members have joined the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA) two months after five board members resigned, most of them in protest following the termination of NENA’s two full-time staff members.

NENA Executive Director Rita Ulrich and Associate Director Doug Walters were fired Oct. 23, on a 6-3 vote when an item was added to the agenda right before the close of the board meeting by board member George Jelatis. The motion to terminate had not been advertised, and board members who were unable to attend the board meeting did not know it was going to be discussed.

On Thursday night, Dec. 11, residents who were interested in filling vacant seats introduced themselves to about 100 people at a community meeting. Residents voted on their top candidates. The NENA board then held a brief board meeting to appoint the individuals to the board who had been selected by the community. There was no discussion during the board meeting.


Meeting facilitator Laura Johansson (seated) assists with the vote count. There were about 100 people voting at the NENA meeting on Dec. 11, 2014. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Laura Johansson of Johansson Consulting was the evening’s independent facilitator, and members of Neighborhood Community Engagement and the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department helped run the voting process.

“It’s a one-item agenda”

The meeting was originally called  as a “Membership/Town Hall Meeting,” and some members came expecting to be able to add an item to the agenda. But when resident Elizabeth Anders asked to add an item to the agenda, she was told she could not as the meeting was an informal selection process. When she asked if she could add an agenda item to the board meeting later in the evening, NENA Chair Kent Knopp-Schwyn responded that she could not.

“It’s a one-item agenda,” Knopp-Schwyn said.

Another resident asked for a synopsis of what has been going on with NENA in the last few months. Knopp-Schwyn pointed out that the board had posted a public statement regarding the termination of staff to the NENA web site and could not comment further on the issue because of employee-employer privacy.

“Since then we’ve been preparing for the Night Before New Year’s Eve Party and this meeting,” said Knopp-Schwyn.

Residents discuss NENA priorities


NENA board member Vanessa Haight (right) helps residents sign in to vote at the NENA meeting on Dec. 11, 2014. Community members selected their top eight new board members, and then the board convened a special meeting to appoint those people to board positions. Three expire in April 2015 and the rest in April 2016. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Prior to meeting candidates for the board, residents gathered in groups of three and discussed opportunities and challenges for NENA, and suggested priorities for the board moving forward.

Tav Buechler stated, “I don’t feel like this room reflects the neighborhood as a whole. I don’t feel like it reflects the diversity.” He added that Keewaydin School is much more ethnically diverse.

Among the priorities suggested were:

  • Set term limits
  • Update bylaws
  • Grow and encourage small businesses in neighborhood
  • Educate neighborhood on what NENA is
  • Attract more members
  • Involve more kids and teenagers, as well as those with young children
  • Set a strategic plan, let the community know the details, and report back on progress
  • Rebuild relationships
  • Offer classes for the Latino population

12 candidates ran for 8 seats

The process of voting in new board members was complicated due to how the bylaws are written. Residents typically vote in new board members at the annual meeting in April. When board members resign, the board may appoint new board members to the vacancies, but does not hold a special election in the middle of the year.

Three of the new seats will expire in just five months, while the others will expire in April 2016.

There were 12 community members running for 8 vacant seats. (See sidebar for voting results.)

The new board met as a whole on Thursday, Dec. 18, and will meet again on the fourth Thursday of January.

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