RESIGNATION LETTER: A Longtime Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Member Explains Why She's Quitting
Francesca Fordiani, a nine-year veteran of the Neighborhood Council, resigned over a letter sent by the chairperson of the elected advisory group that implied acceptance of bribery by local pols.
[Editor's note: Here is the resignation letter of longtime JP Neighborhood Council member Francesca Fordiani.]
Oct. 29, 2012
To: Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council
It is with great sadness and regret that I hereby tender my resignation from the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, effective immediately.
I have been proud to serve my community and the JPNC as a community committee member, Council member, committee chair and/or as Secretary for the last nine years and I am proud of our many accomplishments. But recent events have brought into sharp focus that some of the disagreements we have had over the past year represent fundamentally very different views on what it means to be a member and a leader of a public, deliberative organization. Without common ground on this most basic issue, I find that trust is eroded between members, and between the organization and the community, to the extent that I question the ability of the organization to have any credibility at all.
There has been a controversy within the JPNC recently caused by a press release issued by our Chair, Ben Day, and others, implying bribery of elected officials by developers in the form of campaign contributions. This was done without specifically naming the JPNC or Day’s position of Chair. The intent of the release was to bolster opposition to several proposed developments of luxury housing in Jamaica Plain. The controversy is mostly one of form, involving questions of whether this was an effective and appropriate strategy to employ, how the decision was made to employ it, and whether the individuals involved have any responsibility the Council to respond to these questions or for any negative impacts that may come as a result.
I would like to stress most emphatically that I am in complete agreement with my colleagues in our opposition to these developments, in our outrage at the Boston Redevelopment Authority for essentially ignoring the community, in our resistance to gentrification in Jamaica Plain, in our abhorrence of any form of buying and selling influence, in our desire to advocate for our community, and in our belief in individual rights and freedoms in a democratic society.
However, this was no mere misstep by a well-intentioned few. This was a dramatic departure from how the JPNC has functioned, and how its members have conducted themselves. A damaging precedent is being set and, if it is allowed to stand, the implications may prove to be profound and long-lasting. By the Chair’s account, the press release in question was developed in collaboration with an unspecified number of other Council members and a named community member, and purposely kept secret from the remaining Council members. Unnamed members of organizations other than the Council were also consulted, and, by the Chair’s report, all involved were in agreement regarding the strategic value of taking this step. Those who are applauding this step are basing their support primarily on these assertions: that the release was issued in the name of individuals and not officially by the JPNC, within the rights of those individuals, and therefore, deliberation and consent by the JPNC was not called for, even if they acted in concert with one another; that members, including the Chair, have no duty to the organization and bear no responsibility for any consequences of their actions, as long as they do not indicate they are acting on behalf of that organization; and finally, because they felt issuing the release was a good idea, secrecy from the other members was perfectly justified. In other words, it seems to me, the ends justify the means, and just in case they don’t, we’ll give ourselves a way to rationalize avoiding responsibility.
This was all done ostensibly in the name of democracy, of equity and inclusion, in furtherance of social justice and apparently with no awareness of the inherent contradiction between the values claimed and the actions taken. This would be damaging enough to the Council if it was done only by a handful of members, but for the Chair himself to act with this reckless disregard for the Council and its open, public, deliberative process is simply bad faith. He is certainly aware he cannot avoid representing the Council, at least by association, in all his dealings with the community, despite his claims otherwise. Currently, the majority of the Council either supports the actions of the Chair and these members, or is silent. I find this very troubling.
During the last year, many of my colleagues on the Council and I have clashed over matters of process, rules and duties, both explicit and implicit, and over the relative importance of these matters. These disagreements have not been merely trivial squabbles over academic details, or an effort to obstruct others, as some of my colleagues may feel, but attempts to protect the JPNC and its members by protecting the JPNC’s process – in order to ensure our effectiveness. These are matters that I believe are at the very heart of what it means to be a democratic organization. Simply put, what defines a democracy is the rules we agree to follow and our good faith efforts to adhere to those rules. That is, democracy is the process. As a democratic, representative body, I believe that we are only as effective and credible as our efforts to maintain the process to which we all agreed when joining the Council. That agreement is not only with each other, as members, but with the community which elects us and which we seek to serve. We are only as good as our ability and willingness to keep that agreement with each other and our constituents.
For most of my tenure on the Council, I took for granted that we shared this view, and shared in a responsibility to the organization itself for the good of the organization. I could not have imagined one year ago that I would sit on a Council, the majority of whose members could assert that they, and their Chair, have no duty to the Council when their personal interests and desires are in conflict with the requirement for a public, deliberative process by the Council. I could not have imagined that the Chair, and the majority of members, could state that they bear no responsibility for, and are entirely unconcerned about, maintaining working relationships with the officials and public agencies on which we rely to conduct our regular business. The very purpose of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, per our by-laws, is to “increase and improve communication between the entire Jamaica Plain community and the city of Boston and other agencies and parties.”
I could not have imagined a year ago that we would be led by a Chair with so little regard for the organization, the members, and for his own position as a leader, as to suggest that it was not only appropriate, but proper for him to secretly issue an inflammatory press release regarding business currently before the Council, because he technically retains the right to do so. And that he furthermore bears no responsibility to the Council or its committees or members for any of the negative consequences we can expect. And I certainly could not have imagined that I would serve on a Council, the majority of whose members would either defend this breach of their own right to public deliberation, or would simply acquiesce in silence.
We have come a very long way in a short period of time.
I agree wholeheartedly with my colleagues who state that we all retain our rights and liberties as individuals in a free society when we join organizations such at the JPNC. But in choosing to join such organizations, we chose to become leaders. And in choosing leadership, we choose responsibility. One of those responsibilities is balancing our personal rights and desires against those of others and the organization itself. In those difficult moments when our personal interests conflict with the whole, we accept the duty to seek a responsible resolution to that conflict. To suggest, as does our Chair and some of our members, that no such duty exists because the Council has made no direct, explicit statement describing the resolution of all such conflicts is self-serving, disingenuous, and contrary to the very notions of leadership and membership. (The Council’s by-law, in fact, do describe ethical duties regarding potential conflicts of interest, which I believe may have provided useful guidance here.)
I have a great fear for the Council’s ability to function as a body if it cannot have the basic trust among one another and in its leadership that each will act in good faith. My belief is that the primary responsibility of the Chair of any organization is to ensure, maintain and protect the very deliberative process that was circumvented in this case. Clearly, most of my colleagues do not share that view. In my mind, recent actions, and the defense of those actions, calls into question the very ability of this Council to function as the open, democratic body it is intended to be. Casting ourselves primarily as individual actors within an organization moves us away from the equity and diversity we are seeking, and not toward it. We cannot achieve equity by individualistic approaches to our participation and decision-making, and we certainly cannot get anywhere near it by being dishonest about the actual impact of our actions and decisions on others, regardless of our intentions. That is actually how institutional inequities come to exist and are maintained. I am dismayed that so few of my current colleagues seem recognize this contradiction.
I have a deep regret that my work with the Council ends in this way. I have had some of my proudest moments as a member of the JPNC. However, I have found some of the conflicts of the last year to be most discouraging and disheartening, particularly because on the issues of substance (versus process) we are allies. But discussions over the last several days have made it clear to me that we will not resolve this conflict to my satisfaction or to my colleagues’.
I sincerely hope that my fears are unfounded, and I wish my colleagues every success. It has been an honor to serve alongside past and present Council members, and I am proud of our many achievements. I wish my colleagues well. I also extend my appreciation and thanks to them for their service, as well as to the many community members who serve and have served on Council committees for their work on behalf of our community.