March 11, 2010

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CHCA-Span: Surveilling the board

An interesting idea was floated at a recent CHCA board meeting.

The board was debating whether or not it should impose a rule that would kick a member off if he or she missed five meetings during the year. That measure was proposed this year as a change of the organization’s bylaws. Those who favored the proposal pointed out that the current bylaws allowed an elected board member to never attend a single meeting, so long as he or she called the CHCA office beforehand.

Several vocal board members defended the status quo. They argued that good board members were hard to find (sounds true) and that it would be awful to kick someone off the board who was forced to miss many meetings because of illness (also true).

Then the interesting idea was floated: What right did the board have to impose a rule that would remove someone rightly placed on the board by the CHCA membership? If a board member did not perform, the electorate – the CHCA membership – would decide whether or not to return that member to his or her “office.”

Think about that. In order for such a principle to work, it would require (1) an electorate that was informed, (2) that cared enough to follow the CHCA and (3) that held individual board members accountable for their actions and or votes.

The Local covers all board meetings, but we do not cover them in the painstaking detail that we have in the past. And even in the past, we did not always cover these meetings in a way that made each board member’s actions thoroughly transparent. We don’t do that because we’ve heard time and time again from our readers that they do not want that kind of detail.

For the CHCA to function in a way that would hold board members accountable, the Local would need to serve as a sort of CHCA-Span, a camera eye on the monthly proceedings where every detail is captured. Changes we would make to that effect right away would be (1) a tally of how each board member voted and (2) a list of each meeting’s attendance.

We could do this, but it again brings up a friction in the CHCA’s dynamics that have always been at play during its most angst-filled periods. The CHCA was designed originally as a “quasi-government,” and, to a degree, it functions that way, with membership elections, a free press purposed to report on it and a thick rulebook of bylaws that are constantly re-examined.

But many on the board don’t imagine themselves as public servants accountable to an electorate. The level of scrutiny required often has the effect of taking the neighborly out of the neighborhood meeting. How many on the board would be comfortable having their attendance record published? How many would like their individual votes tallied?

If the board and our readers prefer that method, we can easily accommodate. Still, I think the board’s recent defeat of the bylaw change that would remove board members with five absences is the effect of passing the buck. It assumes that such action on absentee board members is the responsibility of the public. Why can’t the board police itself?

 I’d love to hear from readers what kind of coverage they’d like for the CHCA, whether it’s a letter for publication or just a note to me. Talk to me:

Pete Mazzaccaro

Essay: The bright yellow Chevy

It all started with the sighting of the “ yellow Chevy.”

One day last summer, I rolled my wheelchair out the back door and down my ramp to Germantown Ave.  When I reached the corner, I rolled down the short, concrete ramp into the street.   Wheeling up and down Benezet Street is my daily exercise.  When I returned from Winston Road, I stopped to catch my breath in front of #16. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow flash.

 The car had just turned from Winston Road onto Benezet Street.  This was no ordinary car.  This car was special.   What a color, and the engine was so quiet. It looked like it must belong to a celebrity.  It made its way toward me, not fast, not slow, just a very deliberate speed.  The two-door yellow Chevy pulled up and parked in front of #17.

It was the brightest yellow I had ever seen.  It looked as though the entire body had been held by the rear bumper and dipped in a big vat of yellow paint. The paint job was flawless, smooth and shiny.

An attractive young woman with blond hair stepped out of the car and smiled.  I said hello and asked if she lived on Germantown Ave. “Yes,” she said, “I live in the little white house right across from Benezet Street.”

Well, four young women have occupied that little white house for years.  And they are all studying to be ministers at the Lutheran Seminary in Mount Airy.  They study; they come and they go.  Then new faces arrive and they study; then they graduate and go on to great challenges.

I said to this young woman, “My name is Dave. What’s yours?”

“Valerie,” she said. 

I learned later that her full name was Valerie LeFever.  Little did I know that Valerie was a very talented woman. Little did I know what kind things she would do for me.

A few days later I saw her again.

“So Valerie,” I said. “You must be studying to be a minister.”

“No,” she said, I’m studying to be an organist.”

A few days later, I saw her and the unbelievably bright yellow Chevy. I told her that I would love to hear her play the organ and maybe she could play at our church. So, I contacted our pastor and finally got his approval for Valerie to play.

I was on the verge of having my own private recital when a certain degree of procrastination set in.

A few weeks later, I saw Marsha, one of Valerie’s roommates and an aspiring minister. 

“How’s Valerie?” I asked.

She said, “Oh! She got married and moved to North Carolina.”

My heart sank. The moment of my musical delight disappeared like a puff of smoke.

Two more weeks passed and, in a moment of inspiration, I said to Marsha, “Would you ask Valerie to send one of her CD’s?”

I had no idea whether she had ever made a CD. Some time passed and I hadn’t heard a thing. A few weeks later, I saw Marsha and she said, “I have your CD; I’ll put it in your mailbox.”

I was really excited. Valerie’s selection and the quality of her music far exceeded my expectations. It was inspirational.

When I saw Marsha, I said, “May I have Valerie’s e-mail address so I can thank her properly?”  I wanted to tell her that I was thrilled to be able to listen to her music and that I really appreciated her talent.

Several weeks passed. No e-mail address. I started to get a little paranoid. A few weeks later, Valerie’s e-mail popped up on my screen. What a surprise! What a delight! My ears feasted on the sounds of her music; my eyes enjoyed the pleasure of her words.

One last thought crossed my mind, the thing that started it all - the bright yellow Chevy.

I wrote to Valerie and said, “I pray that you still have the yellow Chevy.”  

“Yes,” she said.  “I’ll send a photo to you.”

A delightful end to the story: Valerie has a full-time job as an organist and choir director at a church directly across the street from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

David Schofield is a longtime resident of Chestnut Hill.


Commentary: Rumors are stories powered by emotion

Rumor: a statement or claim of questionable accuracy from no known reliable source, usually spread by word of mouth, an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person.

Stories are very popular right now, especially in the area of business marketing and branding. I’m not exactly sure why, since they’ve been around for thousands of years, but suddenly everyone is talking about the power of stories. We modern folk are finally realizing what the ancients have known for thousands of years – that stories have the power to shape our world and change our culture.

Ironically, as story’s power has come of age, so has my business. In the last year I have been consulted many times for my expertise in this field. I find this both humorous and ironic since I’ve been using stories for quite a long time, but what the heck, I’m happy to share what I know.

In my upcoming columns, I will talk more about this and how we can access this tremendous resource right here in the heart of our own community. For today I want to focus on a darker side of the story world – the power of a rumor. Rumors are stories that stick. A rumor is a story that is told over and over again whether it’s true or not. That’s a powerful thing. What is disconcerting though is that because rumors have a powerful emotional energy – they tend to stick. We remember a rumor long after it has begun.

Have you ever watched a soap opera or a tele-drama? When I was in college, a girlfriend lent me her TV while she was away for the summer. She lent it to me on the condition that I watch Dallas for her and keep her up to date on the story. I hated Dallas, but I did it just for her. The funny thing is that by the time she came back, I had gotten hooked on the stories and didn’t want to give her TV back! Those larger than life characters, like J.R. Ewing and Sue Ellen, made those stories stick in my mind.

Don’t we have at least a few “characters” like that here on the Hill? People that we’ve only heard about but never actually met? We are just so curious to know about them that we can’t help but cling to and share every little bit of story (i.e., rumor) that we hear? It’s no different from watching TV is it? Don’t you hear people all the time talking about television characters as if they are real? “Oh did you hear what so and so did on such and such a show?” It’s very common.

When I was a little girl there was a candy shop down the road run by a strange older woman. Her house and shop were a bit run down and scary looking, and because of this, many rumors were generated about her. All the children believed that Mrs. Candy Lady was a hunchback with a deceased husband propped up in the back on a chair. Every time I went to buy candy from her I was really afraid, but my actual experience was that she was really nice to me and I liked her.

Many years later when she died and I read her story in the paper, I found out that it was nothing like the stories that we had made up about her. Ironically I never even knew her name. Mrs. Candy Lady lived on as a story in my mind but I never truly got to know her. How sad.

Now why would we make up stories that are so far from true? A rumor is an attempt on a part of our mind to understand the unknown, particularly things that we fear. In the case of this old woman, she was unusual and out of the norm.

That is one of the key elements that sparks a rumor. In an attempt to understand and make sense of the unknown, our primitive brain searches for what will keep us safe and maintain the status quo. It’s not something we do consciously – it’s a factor of our wiring. In the case of Mrs. Candy Lady, no one was trying to do her harm, but the invisible power of a rumor traveled unchecked without ever being questioned.

Rumors are stories that stick because they have real life emotion in them. They satisfy the curiosity seeking part of our mind. We love a good story, especially a mini-drama, whether it is in real life or on TV.

We have plenty of examples of this on the Hill. We all know the major rumor mills that have generated here. Here are just a few of the many doozies that I’ve heard, that are all untrue:

1. Borders will be taken over by Chuck E. Cheese - this one’s my personal favorite!

2. The old flower shop at the bottom of the Hill was some kind of drug lair – I’m not sure why but maybe because it was open at night, this rumor was around for years. The police, however, claimed it was unfounded.

3. Chestnut Hill is largely made up of Republicans – honestly, I believed this one myself. But when I looked it up, statistics from 2009 showed that we are actually 49.645 percent Republican and 49.638 percent Democrat. This rumor is as set in stone as our local Wissahickon schist.

4. Our commercial rents are higher here than anywhere else (also statistics available on this for the number-prone folks).

Rumors are stories that stick in a negative way. They do us harm and generate a negative environment for everyone, whether we are the target of it personally or not.

When a rumor is about a specific individual, as if often the case here on the Hill, it is particularly deadly. When a story is told about us and we are not directly involved in the communication, we feel unfairly picked on, even when the rumor is not meant to hurt.

A rumor always does harm, even when we are just curious or seeking more information. Telling unfounded stories about other people is like an invisible missile of poison gas. We can’t see it but it spreads out and infects our environment. And what does harm to one, does harm to all.

But the point of change is that we can just as easily spread appreciative stories that highlight people’s goodness and not their weakness. When we focus on the positive and the good of those around us, we change our culture and our environment.

Everyone has something good that we can find if we stretch ourselves to look. It might take a bit more effort at the start, but the more we do this, the more we change our culture. Imagine what can happen if we start circulating positive, inspiring stories about our community. We can grow much more from uplifting feedback rather than rumor.

In the next few months, through a series of articles and public forums, I am going to share the power of stories with you. I hope you’ll stay tuned and share your ideas and feedback with me. As always, thanks for listening. If you’d like to connect to me, you can call, e-mail or invite me for tea. I always enjoy getting to know my neighbors here on the Hill.

Annie Hart is a consultant, coach and speaker who helps individuals and businesses to harness the power of change. She lives happily on the Hill with her little dog, Miss Sweetie, and can be found on both her blog and her popular Radio 42 show at






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