Neighbors and GSSD leaders eyeball each other across the table at March’s uncomfortable Board meeting.
A funk continues to infect Germantown Special Services District’s public Board meetings, with tension on both sides. This month was like one of those uncomfortable Holiday dinners where everyone’s pretending to get along but simmering with disgust just under the surface…
Seems people are pissed the GSSD Board royally screwed up and seem to be covering their tracks, yet. Neighbors were promised a new day at GSSD – many assumed the Board would be disbanded or face repercussions or some accountability, somehow.
Not so much. At their general meeting March 11th, the Board focused on getting re-authorized, and also moving ahead with plans to close their old bank account too, for good measure. Archive those statements. Nothing to see here.
They also announced some staff changes, most notably Jarmar Kelly has stepped down as full-time executive director and has moved into a consultant role. Another Board member, Daniel Connor, has left too which leaves six active members for those of us keeping score. Hang on, though, because Ingrid Shepard was asked to resign apparently minutes before the meeting – neither she nor Trapeta would say whether she was actually leaving the Board or not, just that she had been asked and was considering it.
So that would be five, although no one wants to say, so that’s weird. When the meeting opened for comments, people kept circling back to whether Ingrid was resigning or not – and she was right there on the phone! “If you can’t say whether she’s off the Board now, can you tell us by what date you will know?” Trapeta finally agreed to provide a deadline for Ingrid’s deadline – by Friday March 15th, she would let everyone know when we could expect an answer from Ingrid. (3/15 update: the date passed without any communication from GSSD in this matter.)
Another issue folks had a beef with: the nominations process for new Board members. A lot of local property owners had been counting on taking back the GSSD Board, and seemed frankly pretty crushed to see the same old song and dance returning.
Remember how we got here? The GSSD Board in their own words “grossly mismanaged” the organization, winding up with massive delinquencies requiring independent audits and emergency funds from the City. They had only $145 in their bank account in January, and no access to their statements or balances. The Commerce Department called the GSSD downtown to explain themselves and recommend steps they needed to take to help rectify the situation.
One of their suggestions implemented was a “Nominations Advisory Committee” of property owners in the District to recruit and recommend potential new Board members from the community. The committee included local property and business owners, representatives from Germantown organizations and even developer Ken Weinstein, owner of East Falls’ Trolley Car Café and visionary behind Wayne Junction’s recent boom.
Ken – along with several other audience members – took issue with how much “advising” the Board was actually open to. He and other members of the Nominations Advisory Committee had been under the impression they were choosing the slate of new candidates for Cindy’s approval. When Trapeta advised the current Board would actually be meeting to compile their own list of nominees to vote on, Ken spoke right up:
“You know there’s no rubber stamps in life but I’m a little surprised to come to the meeting tonight and I think we have ten excellent candidates… It shows the quality of people in Germantown by the ten that we have put forward. So I’m surprised that it’s now being second guessed, it’s now being further discussed, it’s being looked at.
“I doubt very much the Board will spend the same amount of time and energy our committee spent on talking about people and making sure we had the right balance geographically and otherwise so, I’m just a little surprised because I thought the decision would happen tonight. I’m a little surprised it’s now being wrought over again after the committee spent so much time.”
Probably goes without saying that Ken Weinstein is one of these candidates. The full lineup includes:
Rex Barr – Germantown resident and business owner
Vanessa Benton – Overbrook resident, Mastery Charter School Employee
Tuomi Forrest – Executive Director of Historic Germantown, Mt. Airy BID board member (ex officio)
Maria Kaisla – Mt. Airy resident, Germantown property owner
Kate Gaffney Lange — Germantown property & business owner
Gabriel Saffioti – Owner of 5443-5445 Germantown Ave. Brooklyn Resident
Rebecca Segers – Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Germantown
Ken Weinstein – Mt. Airy resident, Owner of Philly Office Retail, Developer, Board Chair Mt. Airy BID, Board Chair Philadelphia Housing Development Corp.
Connie Winters – Property owner
Stacey Wright – Germantown Resident and business owner & notary
Worth noting that Trapeta (and presumably the Board) was not thrilled that these names had been released to Facebook:
“I’m not on that Facebook page… but we did ask for confidentiality in this advisory capacity. Because there were some people who submitted their resumes that really didn’t want to be, you know, known. <laughs> … Some individuals – some, not all – when they submitted, felt it was done in confidentiality until we got to the public process when we would state those names.”
(“I guess if you didn’t want information shared you should probably should’ve said that somewhere in the email,” Jeff Ragoldop shrugged when we caught up with him after the meeting at Germantown Espresso Bar, where he’s co-owner with Miles Butler. Jeff had been on the Nominations Advisory committee with Miles until recently quitting over the lack of income diversity, among other things, in the list of nominees.)
Anyway, “in light of this,” Trapeta explained that a special executive meeting was necessary, after which they’d vote publicly at the end of the month (details below). When asked if they will be taking comments from the community Trapeta said non-committally, “I don’t see why not,” which really underscores the whole attitude the Board was giving off at the last meeting: vague, bored, annoyed. (We caught Jamar rolling his eyes on camera several times without even trying.)
Maybe it’s us but you’d think the Board who ran GSSD into the ground would be a little more conciliatory. Allowing a carefully-chosen committee from the community to prepare a new list of Board nominees seems like a small but significant overture. Perhaps that’s why for some people it burns to learn the community’s influence is purely advisory.
Furthermore, GSSD can opt to nominate zero board members if they want to. According to their bi-laws, the Board only needs 5 members to function (which they have) – the maximum is 15 so they can appoint as many as 10. What’s this mean? Germantown neighbor Jeff Smith walked us through:
“You have six board members, one who is retiring but you haven’t said when. So I have to presume that that person’s going to be involved in the decision about these next Board members. So that’s six… if it’s five then there’s all the much more concern from the part of the community that you have five people who are determining the composure of 15 members on the Board… That’s a lot of people. I’m concerned.”
Yeah, Jeff, so are we.
See you at the big GSSD vote Saturday March 30th at 11am in the Joseph E. Coleman library (map). Stay tuned for who made GSSD’s list of candidates for Cindy Bass’s approval, and who will advance to the next round at City Hall.
SUMMARY — PART ONE
Board’s business for March 11th, 2019
Board members attending:
Trapeta Mayson – Interim Chair/President
Cornelia Swinson — Secretary
Jania Daniels (co-owner, Rose Petals Café, via phone)
Angela Bowie (Senior Policy Advisor, Councilwoman Cindy Bass)
Charles Richardson (Special Assistant, Councilwoman Cindy Bass)
Ingrid Shepard (Germantown resident, via phone)
Jamar Kelly (interim executive director)
Councilwoman Cindy Bass
The Board passed three resolutions:
- To adopt and revise a 5-year plan, budget and district boundaries
- To hold a public hearing Wednesday April 24th 3:00pm to 6:00pm at First Presbyterian Church (35 W. Chelten Avenue)
- To close their Citizens Bank checking & payroll account, settle all discrepancies and archive the statements
FYI: Under the Municipal Authorities Act, every 5 years GSSD needs to get re-authorized. The first step is mailing the plan/budget/boundaries to all the property owners in GSSD’s current boundaries (which, btw, are not changing with this authorization). After April 24ths meeting, there’s a 45-day objection period, which ends Saturday June 8th and then the plan moves onto City Hall for approval.
Required Reading: Treasurer’s report and other informative handouts here.
PART TWO — Q&A with AUDIENCE
Don’t forget: next GSSD Board meeting is 9am Friday, April 12th (57 Maplewood Mall, map)