Violence begets violence
Last Friday, I was visited briefly by Dr. George Spaeth. The former president and member of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board had come by to deliver a letter of resignation that he had earlier tendered to the association’s president, Tolis Vardakis.
The letter was brief (you can find it below in our letters section). He could not, he said, discuss the particular events that had driven him to resign because it had happened during the last board meeting’s executive session on Dec. 18, the same meeting during which longtime Local staffer Jimmy Pack was fired. He said he could not discuss the session or its conclusions.
He did offer, however, that his last two years as a member of the CHCA board “have not been pleasant.“
Then, on his way out, in a general, odd reference to the state of the association and current events he said, “People just don’t understand that violence doesn’t work.”
Violence in this context is not just a hyperbole. For the last two years, minority voices on the association’s board have struggled to be heard. Instead, they’ve been rhetorically marginalized as cranks and outsiders. When they protest — and they do so, often, in these pages — their loyalty to community is questioned. These voices, those that call for adherence to process and for consensus, are rolled over.
The board’s majority often takes exception to this sort of commentary. They dislike Jim Foster’s constant protests. They abhor Ed Feldman’s scolding epistles. I am frequently admonished for lack of balance, yet seldom do members of the association’s majority offer their own viewpoint, even though they know this paper’s founding purpose was to serve as a forum for public debate. Perhaps there are no ideas or positions they can defend.
I’m sure board members on the side of the majority are satisfied that they have prevailed in democratic fashion, but their failure to build consensus continues to discount and beat up the minority. That kind of disenfranchisement is akin to violence.
Dr. Spaeth had been a consistent voice of reason at the association’s often unreasonable board meetings since he was elected nearly two years ago. The loss of his voice is considerable. But he’s not alone.
He joins two other eminently respectable people, not partisans, who in the last two years resigned because they believed the board was consistently failing to take seriously its fiscal responsibilities and/or act in accordance to bylaws: Nancy Hutter and Howard Lesnick. In the end, Spaeth, Lesnick and Hutter decided that there was no joy in seeing reasonable arguments bulldozed every month.
Whether it was failing to satisfy lingering questions about the association’s use of the Chestnut Hill Community Fund or the recent ham-fisted firing of Jimmy Pack, the board’s leaders may have found themselves on the side of a voting majority, but they have acted violently against both those minority board members who hoped to have their concerns addressed, and, more significantly, against the staff members of the Local who do not see a responsible and accountable organization at the top.
And violence never works, to again quote Dr. Spaeth. It only begets more violence.
I’m having a hard time understanding how and why the board voted to fire Jimmy J. Pack Jr. The bylaws state that the board has the power to hire and fire only the editor and the community manager. In my opinion certain board members think they can do as they please without regard to the bylaws or office procedures when dealing with the staff. They treat us as hostile because of what they hear from other employees of the CHCA. As far as I’m concerned, only the editor or the production manager (that’s me) has the power to fire an individual employed by the Local in the production department.
When you work for a newspaper it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to believe that your impact and reach are waning.
But the results of our readership survey have, to an extent, vindicated our efforts over the past few months (see postscript for research limitations and qualifications).
Of the 124 survey respondents, 84 of them described the Local in clearly positive terms and 13 described it in clearly negative terms. Twenty respondents described the paper in neutral terms and six gave no answer when asked how they would describe the Local.