By Wesley Ratko

Declining membership in the Chestnut Hill Community Association was a central concern of the Board of Directors meeting Thursday night.  Prompted by a report from Community Manager Celeste Hardester, who identified membership as one of the most important issues to be addressed in 2012, the Board agreed that stepping up efforts at increasing the number of members requires additional focus.

Hardester said that membership has diminished over the years.

“I’m concerned that [membership] is not going to keep going up but it will go in the opposite direction,” she said, adding that she is concerned about the impact this will have on the association.

She said it would require “a counter-force effort” on the part of the Board to find ways to address membership.

“I don’t know the answers to that,” she said, “I’m simply stating that I really feel that I have reached a place where that is at the top of my list of what needs to happen.”

Board president Jane Piotrowski said that a membership roll of 1,900 members would square things financially.  According to Hardester, membership stood at 1,640 when she assumed her role as community manager last September.

Responding to concerns that it was the cost of membership that has decreased the number of members, board member Richard Snowden said he didn’t think the membership cost was the reason for the decline.

“We have done a poor job of re-introducing this organization and all of the things it does to the all of the new neighbors who have moved to the neighborhood in the last seven or eight years,” he said.

Other members of the Board agreed, saying that no one knows the value of the CHCA.

“We have allowed ourselves to be defined by other forces in the community that are unfairly categorizing what this organization does,” Snowden added.

While the Board took no formal action on this, there were several members present who said that the next month or two — during which the association is crafting its next budget — would be a good time in which to strategize ways to increase membership.

Other actions

• The Board approved a minor change to the by-laws that replaced the term “Business Manager” with “Associate Publisher,” a position currently held by Larry Hochberger.  The business manager position no longer exists.  Justification for the change, which was suggested by Community Manager Celeste Hardester, is that the outdated title is not in keeping with the rest of the by-laws.  “It’s confusing for new members to see a title in the bylaws that does not exist,” she said.

• Board members Tom Hemphill and Mark Keintz were unanimously appointed to be co-chairs of the Election Committee.

• Board members Rob Lamb, Lisa Howe, Marianne Dwyer and Nick Yzzi were nominated and approved to the Nominating Committee. That committee, chaired by the CHCA’s past president, Walter Sullivan, will nominate candidates for the CHCA’s Executive Committee.

• The Board nominated and unanimously approved the appointment of three new members of the Budget and Finance Committee.  Board member Mark Keintz will be joined on that committee by Bob Fles, a former head of the Upper School at Chestnut Hill Academy and resident of Chestnut Hill since 1970, and Laura Lucas, a financial services consultant and Chestnut Hill resident since 2005.

  • mikeg

    Make membership cheaper. I think even $50 is deal breaker for many – especially the middle class of CH. Also, make information (including even live proceedings) available on social media, like facebook and twitter. Many people with families or busy jobs cannot make the meetings even though they are very interested and concerned about the subject matter being addressed at them. Offer membership for free for 6 months to all new homebuyers in 19118 – like a welcome wagon kind of thing. Its easier to renew memberships that already exist (and the free Locals delivered in the mail will get people hooked!) And create a special seat or seats whose sole purpose is to represent the interests of the residents (as opposed to the businesses).

  • Bob Bruce

    It sounds like the concern is having enough members to support the organization financially. I think it is also important for people to get involved to support CHCA initiatives as well as have a voice in things.
    One important aspect of the CHCA is that it helps property owners get zoning variances when they’ve been denied by the Philadelphia Zoning Board. The new zoning code has procedures for civic organizations to continue this process. What may be a big issue with CHCA is the new requirement that civic associations draw their membership from their defined geographic area, eg. 19118. To be recognized by the city in zoning matters, CHCA membership must be from 19118 only. I don’t believe this is the case currently.
    So CHCA will have a challenge growing membership while limiting it to Chestnut Hill (19118).

  • Kmv

    Bob Bruce has identified an important issue. CHCA draws its membership from all over the country, so it really is not a community organization or neighborhood association in the commonly understood meaning of those terms. Clearly there is a conflict between the goal of bringing in funds through high membership levels and representing the needs of 19118 . If their high operating costs can’t be covered with membership confined to the actual geographical community, then perhaps they are trying to do too much.

  • mikeg

    How much money does the CHCA spend operating the various committees that deal with zoning and development issues? The sitting committee persons are volunteers. The meetings are held at the library and in the hospital community rooms. Does the CHCA have to pay rent for their use? Is their counsel for the CHCA? Volunteer or paid? Maybe the DRC and the various other committees should be independent of the CHCA. That way, those other activities and events of the CHCA that cost so much money to run (and make the CHCA beholden to the few that basically underwrite them) won’t interfere with the important and often contentious business of zoning and development.