At this week’s North End / Waterfront neighborhood meetings, community leaders were shocked to have recently received a $5,000 shakedown letter from the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy regarding the personal contribution and fundraising “expectations” of representatives. Six neighborhood groups will be nominating voting members to the Conservancy’s Board of Directors under new legislation, effective January 1, 2013. View the letter sent to neighborhood groups (pdf).
In the letter’s attachment, the Conservancy has set out its “Expectations of Members,” including the following:
- Make an annual individual financial contribution as appropriate to your circumstances. An annual minimum “give or get” of $5,000 is suggested.
- Strengthen the Conservancy’s financial base by providing leadership on and financial support toward fundraising efforts.
- Make the Greenway Conservancy a top philanthropic priority. Meet annually with the Board Chair or designee to determine individual fundraising goals and plans.
Neighborhood group leaders are concerned that qualified residents will be reluctant or unable to meet such requirements. Some have even suggested the Conservancy is using this mechanism as a loophole in the new legislation to cherry-pick members that will not “rock the boat.”
Financial contributions by board members are often solicited by non-profits. However, it was largely assumed that middle and low income neighborhood reps would fill the role of community advocates, not rainmakers or fundraising chiefs.
At a neighborhood meeting this week, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli said the financial and fundraising expectations set forth by the Conservancy are not consistent with the spirit of the new legislation. They intend to work with the Conservancy so that a financial commitment would not be a requirement to a neighborhood seat on the GC’s Board of Directors.
The Conservancy Board must approve each of the neighborhood representatives giving it veto power over people it doesn’t like. Someone that may want to challenge the six figure executive salaries or question the Conservancy’s expenditures of public and private money, is unlikely to receive such approval.
A cover letter from Greenway Conservancy Chair Georgia Murray told the groups:
We are delighted to work with you to identify talented and dedicated leaders. Your list of candidates will assist the Greenway Conservancy’s Governance and Nominating Committee to fill 1 of the open seats on the Board. To provide you with a better understanding of the time commitment and responsibilities of a board member, we have attached a description. Moreover, if you would like, a current board member will be happy to speak informally at one of your upcoming meetings. For the benefit of all candidates, members of the Governance Committee will meet with the individuals prior to the final approval of the nominee by a vote of the full board at a public Board meeting.
The State Legislature recently passed, and the Governor signed, reform legislation to make the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy more accountable to citizens through the Public Records and Open Meeting Laws. The legislation also gives a voice to surrounding Greenway neighborhoods by expanding its Board of Directors to 21 members to allow for neighborhood representatives from six groups:
- North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council, NEWNC
- North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association, NEWRA
- Chinatown Neighborhood Council, CNC
- Chinatown Residents’ Association, CRA
- Leather District Neighborhood Association, LDNA
- Wharf District Council, WDC
The reform bill addresses issues that have been questioned since the creation of the private, non-profit organization (See Greenway Conservancy Exposed – We Knew That, But Thanks Herald.) The current Greenway Conservancy Board fought against the legislative changes referring to its status as a private, non-profit corporation. In the end, the Greenway is public land and that reasoning won over the legislature and the Governor to support the reforms. The new legislation does not address the financial standing of the Conservancy, which remains in the hands of the State’s transportation department. To date, MassDOT remains intent on eliminating public funding for the Conservancy over five years.