Why I will be voting NO

Rant

dougkSat, 04/01/2020 - 5:46pm
Living in the red

This is why I will be voting NO - against the constitution now proposed by the Committee ...

I know this current document has been put forward by the Committee with the very best of intents but it has serious flaws and would not serve our community well. If our Association were to adopt this constitution it would, over time, lose any resemblance to the Association that I joined in 2008 and served in various positions over 7 years. There are clauses that would dilute, then diminish and potentially extinguish the voice of village members whose Association it once was.

Here are a few of my concerns:

1. One step forward, two steps back

This proposed constitution does not reflect the recommendations of the constitution subcommittee that was set up at the October 2019 meeting of the Association.

I was asked to be part of that subcommittee and I know that it worked diligently on the challenging task of preparing a draft constitution: one which would recognise and empower those nearby non-urban owners who have sought to join in recent times while at the same time protecting the interests of the village residents and owners.

After many hours of research, consultation and discussion, and numerous revisions, a draft was presented to the president. All his requested amendments were incorporated. So it became at that point no longer just the subcommittee’s proposal. This amended version was the one placed on the website for comment and which then went to the Special Meeting for a vote in December.

Despite uncertainty at that meeting as to what was being voted on; despite there being no explanation of the implications of a “no” vote; despite further confusion arising from some misleading comments – the result was tantalising close to the 75% required for the constitution to be passed. There was therefore no need to throw out everything. What was needed were a few tweaks, some clearer explanations, less misinformation and a more orderly process.

After this close vote, the subcommittee got back to work. It took into account much of the feedback received following the December meeting and then produced the attached modified version. This subcommittee-revised version however was rejected by the Committee in favour of the version they are now proposing.

Included in their proposal which is now before us is a vastly expanded “neighbourhood”. Struck out are the protections of the interests of the villagers. Gone too is the clause preventing one subgroup from being out-voted by another. In its place is a strange and anti-democratic clause 36(5) that has the potential to do the exact opposite.

2. The neighbourhood

The map in Appendix 1 of the Committee proposal defines the “Neighbourhood” of North Arm Cove. Let’s put the scale of this proposed “Neighbourhood” into some perspective ...

The Cove village, including all its reserves and public roads, occupies less than 1 sq km.
The total area of the Baromee Peninsula on which our village resides is just 2.7 sq km.
If we include all the adjacent non-urban “paper” subdivisions that takes the area up to 7.67 sq km.

Each of these figures is dwarfed by the “Neighbourhood” now proposed for membership eligibility: a whopping 45 sq km.

That “Neighbourhood” includes places that are up to 26 minutes and 19 km by road from our Community Hall. It includes places whose needs and nature are vastly different to those of the North Arm Cove village; different also to the needs of the village’s nearby non-urban owners.

Yet despite it huge size, this “Neighbourhood” does not include nearby Carrington – an area so close that we actually do have shared interests.

Our North Arm Cove village would sit like a pimple on the bottom of this large “Neighbourhood”. And any influence the villagers might have hoped to retain would be progressively squeezed out by other clauses of this proposed constitution.

The Committee has proposed that, if you own land or reside anywhere in this “Neighbourhood” then you will be eligible to become a member and to stand for office. The only restriction is that either the president or vice president must reside somewhere, -anywhere-, within that 45 km2 area. There are around 3600 paper-subdivision non-urban lots near to the village (of which Council own around 600) plus all the acreages down to the Rock and north of the Pacific Highway. That means that there are far more potential members (owners and residents) outside our small village than within. Under the Committee’s proposed constitution it is quite possible for there to be no village members on the Committee at all.

It is true that the Bureau of Statistics did adopt our village’s name for one of its statistical regions. Perhaps we should feel flattered. But is our local community really that whole statistical region?

North Arm Cove does not need an empire. We don’t need an association that can claim to represent vast swathes of land. What we do need is for our local issues to be addressed: drainage, roads, local facilities, local services, environmental concerns, ... We have quite enough of these issues already, within just a kilometre or three, that require the attention of our Association.

3. Equity

The Committee’s version of the constitution rejects the subcommittee’s proposed categories of urban/non-urban members. We are told:

Delineating the membership categories or classes within the membership presents problems for the equity of membership rights. For example the original draft constitution had classes of membership and differences in rights to standing for elections on the Executive which today would not be approved by Fair Trading.

This is not correct. The constitution-subcommittee's proposal would be acceptable to Fair Trading. Many other organisations have different categories of membership, their constitutions then define those members’ rights.  (Sometimes a category of membership has no voting rights at all.) In the constitution-subcommittee’s proposal, the rights of members are explicitly defined.

  • All members have a single vote on any motion. [Clause 36(1)]
  • All members can stand for any committee position   – with the provisos that:

. at least one of the president/vice president must be a resident, [Clause 15(7)]
. there can be no more than two non-urban members on the committee [Clause 15(8)]; and
. a committee quorum must include at least two urban members [Clause 21(5)].

Other than those three provisos, there are no differences between membership entitlements. 

Having provisos like these is not unusual in constitutions. Even the Association Incorporations Act itself includes requirements - based on residence: for example, it specifies that at least three members of an association's committee must be Australian residents and that the public officer must be a NSW resident.

At this time of constitutional change, it is the village members who are being asked to sacrifice some of the “equity” that they have under the existing Association constitution. It seems not unreasonable that their interests should have some protection in any new constitution. Without the protection provided by those provisos, the constitutional change would more closely resemble a take-over.

4. A house divided

The needs and the desires of the urban and non-urban communities of the Cove do overlap but they are certainly not identical. What should happen if an issue comes before the Association and the community is split along urban/non-urban lines? Should a divisive question simply be determined by which group happens to have mustered a majority on that day? That approach could split the Association and the community in two.

The subcommittee’s proposal says that, if such contentious issues do arise, the chairperson can ensure that a proposed motion requires majority support from both urban and non-urban voters. If it doesn’t get that support, then the Association as a whole will not take a view on the issue. This approach actually encourages parties to work towards a consensus position acceptable to both groups.

The Committee’s proposed clause 36(5) does not fulfil the same purpose. Although its wording is rather unclear, this clause appears potentially discriminatory and ripe for abuse.

5. Powers of the committee

The cover letter accompanying the proposed constitution states:

Reference Groups are established by delegation of the Executive. This delegation can be legally removed by the Executive if the Association is bought into disrepute.

I presume Reference Groups means subcommittees. In Part 4, the constitution grants the committee powers including to manage, as necessary, the affairs of the association. However Part 4 also makes it clear that, as well as being subject to the Act, the regulations and the constitution, the committee is also subject to any resolution passed at a general meeting. It is the general meeting which is the supreme decision-making body in an association. A general meeting may, for example, resolve to reverse an earlier decision of a committee.

6. Taking the blame

Every new committee stands on the shoulders of those that came before them. Our past committees have all been comprised of hardworking members of our community - many of whom remain community members with some still volunteering for our community in other roles. If the present constitutional conundrum had been brought to the attention any of those past committees of course they would have responded appropriately.

If it is absolutely necessary to have a scapegoat, then make it me. I was president back in 2016 when the regulations changed. The current hassles started with my discovery last October that our actual constitution was the one from 1992. I had at that time sought from Fair Trading the original objects of the association after noticing that the following list of “goals” and “membership requirements”, that had until late 2018 been included on the membership webpage, was no longer there.

The North Arm Cove Residents Association is a community-based organisation. It is run by and accountable to its members who are full-time or part-time residents of the Cove and its adjacent areas.

Through membership of NACRA, residents can:

  • contribute to planning the future of our community;
  • participate in the development of community resources;
  • raise issues of community concern;
  • assist in lobbying of Council, governments and other bodies; and
  • strengthen our sense of community 

Conclusion

Before our Association became incorporated in 1992, it was actually known as the Village Association. The Rules (constitution) that they approved in 1992 reflected that focus on the village. Things have changed over 28 years but, for the Cove villagers of 2020, it is hard to see any upsides in the constitution now being proposed.
Under that constitution:

  •  the village would just be a settlement clinging to a small appendage at the southern extremity of a very large membership area
  • there would be no clauses to ensure that villagers continue to have a voice
  • the interests of villagers could be outvoted at general meetings
  • there might be no villagers in any executive roles
  • there could even be no villagers at all on the committee 

I cannot vote in favour of such a constitution.

DougK, 4 Jan 2020

 

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