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Disagreement Over RNA Direction

Appearing this month instead of the usual editorial essay and reader letters, is an open letter from Nancy Vogel regarding her resignation from the Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) board and a response from the RNA board. Vogel is the fifth board member to resign this year. To the board of the RNA: I ran for the RNA board because I saw it as an organization that was positioned to be a powerful voice for the whole neighborhood. It has the potential to empower and encourage individual neighbors to become involved. The RNA should be the venue to educate the residents about issues that affect the neighborhood, their safety, their quality of life, and to advocate for the neighborhood with elected officials, business people, and other civic leaders. I believe this board has accomplished very little that is positive for the neighborhood. In fact, it has managed to further alienate a significant portion of Riverwest residents who see this organization as irrelevant and whose agenda in no way reflects their interests or concerns. The board has spent the year doing things for the RNA, not for the neighborhood. Bylaws, while important for the functioning of an organization, do nothing for the neighborhood or its residents. This board has spent countless hours deliberating over bylaw minutia. What has been done for the neighborhood? Creating an Outreach committee does not mean real outreach has actually been done. It appears that the only people this committee is interested in reaching out to are those who share the members’ own ideals and ideas. This does not represent the entire neighborhood or the diversity of opinions of its residents. Creating a Fundraising committee, which has no members and has raised no funds, does not benefit the neighborhood. There has been no discussion regarding ways to use the funds raised at the rummage sale (not organized by the fundraising committee) to actually do something constructive for the neighborhood. The Safety committee has advertised and hosted several community wide meetings with city officials on issues that affect the entire neighborhood. The committee has done so despite an adversarial and obstructionist attitude from the Chair of the RNA board. Both the Chair and Co-chair hurt the entire neighborhood with their hostile attitude towards the police and crime reduction efforts. They are undermining the positive working relationship the Safety committee has developed with the police. This organization is increasingly becoming a bully pulpit for the ideas and ideals of a small group of people who only seek input from like-minded individuals. By continuing in this direction, the RNA will become increasingly less respected and less relevant, both to the residents of the neighborhood and to the city officials looking for input on neighborhood projects. It also shows a disrespect and lack of tolerance for the diversity of interests and opinions that exist in our neighborhood. I have no desire to be a part of such an organization and hereby tender my resignation as at-large board member of the RNA. Sincerely, Nancy Vogel Riverwest resident


Dear Neighbors, It’s with surprise and regret that we read Nancy’s letter. Without exception, we consider her resignation a loss to the board, and to the neighborhood. However, we would like to respond to some of her statements, and encourage anyone to attend a general or committee meeting. As a board, we have taken our responsibilities seriously, and we have all volunteered many hours to get things accomplished — often things that have been brought up directly from residents. In the last 8 months the board, committees and members have: •Started up 5 functioning committees – Administrative, Development, Green Space, Outreach, and Safety, and are working on two more – Fundraising and Youth •Started RNAmail back up again •Created a new website (www.My-RNA.org) •Held a fundraising neighborhood rummage sale which increased our finances more than ten-fold •Recommended and passed changes to the bylaws, making them more clear, responsive and memberdriven •Participated in the Dept of City Development’s North East side plan, acquired support for preservation of the Milwaukee River through the Milwaukee River Work Group, supported the continuation of the Gardener’s Market in Garden Park despite the city’s push to build on the land, supported neighborhood-driven transformation of Railroad right-of-way into “Linear Park” •Hosted a community-wide meeting for the Sheriff, Police Captain and Park people in response to violence in Gordon Park •Established an ongoing relationship with Scott Peak and Oscar Perez from UWM in order to engage students from the new dorm in the neighborhood •Supported the efforts of Riverwest Walkers and started a Riverwest Cyclists group •Hosted two informational meetings, one for community input on Linear Park and, just last month, on the Sustainable Boulevards. As Nancy said, bylaws are “important for the functioning of an organization” and we believe they are critical for the neighborhood and its residents. Some of the bylaw changes the membership enacted: •Make the board more responsible to the membership •Give the power to charge dues or approve affiliate, non-resident memberships to the membership instead of to the board •Clarify that members have the right to vote on motions at the general meeting, not just at elections or on amendments. Bylaw changes are serious, and in an effort to finish previously tabled bylaws, this board proposed and the general membership agreed that we create a bylaw amendment timeline. In fact, we spent less then 2 hours in board meetings on bylaws. Our complete bylaws and proposed changes are at www.My-RNA.org The purpose of the Outreach committee is to truly diversify our membership. We are particularly interested in reaching out to the churches, the schools, the Puerto Rican and African American communities, men, youth, elders and the 480 students who will be moving into the new dorms. Several of the board and committee members have gone out multiple times and spoken to people in the streets, at the parks, at events. Any Riverwester who wants to help will be welcomed to join in our efforts. Anyone who has worked on Outreach to diversify an organization knows how difficult it can be. One of the goals of the Outreach Committee is to fundraise for kiosks that we can put in different parts of the neighborhood for RNA and neighborhood news. The board has discussed and is currently creating budgets for each committee for the remainder of 2007, and a proposed budget for 2008. Our Fundraising Committee is brand new. Please join it. We’re having a dunk tank at Center St. Daze (September 22)! The Safety Committee has held two communitywide events, helped create block watches, and shared safety news. This helps reach out to diverse parts of Riverwest and make our neighborhood safer. We respectfully disagree that trying to maintain a process for reimbursement and the sharing of information through all possible channels is being obstructive. Quite the contrary, it is a way for RNA to reach the largest possible audience and to ensure that available member funds have been distributed back to the community in an equitable way. While members of this board may have differences of opinions on how the police should respond to the citizens of Riverwest, you can be sure that we all share the same goal of a safer and more peaceful neighborhood. Regarding “disrespect and lack of tolerance for the diversity of interests and opinions,” we want everyone to know that Sura and Wendy have both made multiple overtures to Nancy. Sura sent Nancy multiple emails that express appreciation and willingness to exchange ideas: “I respect your thoughtful contributions to the board… I’m glad you’re on the board. You make the RNA more fully representative.” As volunteers we do our best to stay true to our beliefs and work hard to represent our neighborhood. All Riverwest residents are members of RNA, which “exists to empower, educate and advocate for the residents of the Riverwest neighborhood.” Please come and get involved. The RNA board, its committees and the membership will be as good as the people who are on it make it. To Nancy or anyone who feels like an outsider, you are not an outsider, you are a valued member of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association. We will, in fact, go out of our way to make you feel included and appreciated. You are always welcome in RNA. Sura Faraj (chair), Wendy Mesich (co-chair), Tim Vertz (treasurer), Melissa Tempel (secretary), Maureen Kane (at-large director)

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