JPNC adds Forest Hills polling place

August 14, 2009
By

David Taber

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) at its July 28 meeting voted to add a new polling place at the Forest Hills T Station for its Sept. 12 election, but the council is still seeking volunteers to staff the election.

The addition came after an enthusiastic conversation featuring a greater than usual amount of back-and-forth between council members and the audience. There were 11 audience members and 10 council members present—a large turnout for the audience but an anemic one for the council, which, at capacity, seats 20 members.

Three JPNC members have resigned in recent months.

At its June meeting, the JPNC decided on two polling places, one at the JP World’s Fair, scheduled to take place in Hyde Square that day, and one at J.P. Licks at 659 Centre St.

That plan, as members of the council and audience members pointed out at the July meeting, would have meant there is no polling place in Area C, one of the three JPNC sub-districts. Some also objected to holding the elections on Saturday, saying a weekday would be more convenient for many.

The JPNC rejected proposals to hold the election in Forest Hills on Friday and at the other locations on Saturday, and to postpone the election—already postponed twice—until October.

“The JPNC…is important and we must have an election,” said council member David Baron.

Speaking from the audience, Bernie Doherty, head of the Asticou-Martinwood Neighborhood Association in the Forest Hills area, said members of that organization could staff the polling place. But he said he would only ask his members to help if the elections taking place on a weekday. Doherty is a former member of the JPNC.

“It is important for each district to have a polling place,” he said at the meeting. But at the meeting and in a follow up interview, he said the weekend election was unacceptable.

“What I made clear, at least I hope I made clear, is that the Saturday date disenfranchises a lot of people,” he told the Gazette. “If they want to [find people to] staff it, that’s fine.”

In a letter that appeared in the July 24 issue of the Gazette, council member Kathy Holland and JP residents Judith Kolligian and Terrell Gibbs—who this year served on an ad hoc committee reviewing the JPNC by-laws—objected to having the election at the World’s Fair in Hyde Square because many JP residents will likely not attend the fair and because it is being sponsored “by some organizers likely to have future issues before the council.”

All three of the signators attended the meeting, but the conflict of interest issue went unaddressed by them.

They were addressed by one member of the council. “The JPNC as an independent body has had a really tough time casting off the perception that we are just an extension of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC),” a key fair organizer, JPNC member Carlos Icaza said at the meeting.

Arguing against holding the election at the fair, Icaza said that perception is false but problematic.

Icaza is also a member of the JPNDC board of directors. Other members of the council are on staff at the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a community organization that also helps organize the fair.

While concerns about bias on the council have arisen from time to time, no specific council decisions have ever been decried as biased. Council members with professional interests in issues coming before the council regularly recuse themselves from those discussions and votes. Both of the council members on staff at HSTF—Mark Pedulla and Jesús Gerena—have both said they are not seeking reelection. Another council member, Sol Tangvik, who has been involved in youth programs at HSTF, is also not seeking re-election because she is heading to college.

Icaza, who also heads the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association, is seeking re-election.

A full list of confirmed candidates is scheduled to be released today. [See www.JamaicaPlainGazette.com for updates.]

The September date is the third that has been set for the election. The election was last postponed in June when only 10 candidates sought ballot slots for the council’s 20 seats and the council’s election committee could not find enough volunteers to run the election. In recent years the elections have been held on Fridays and Saturdays at Orange Line T Stations throughout JP.

“I think I speak for the council when I say that our goal is to have elections people can participate in,” said council member Francesca Fordiani. But finding volunteers is a problem, she said. With two polling places on one day “we need eight volunteers instead of 30.”

There was some back-and-forth at the meeting about whether the council could have done more to recruit volunteers, with JPNC members saying they had not received many responses to repeated efforts. Speaking to the Gazette, Doherty admitted he had come to the table a little late. “My group could have done more. Other groups could have done more, but you have got to feel welcome,” he said. “I really don’t think this is going to come out too well.”

Historically, as many as 600 people have voted in the JPNC elections In recent years, the number has been closer to 400.

It is unclear whether there will be volunteers to staff the Forest Hills voting place. At the June meeting, run by JPNC vice-chair Felix Arroyo, he asked council members not to propose any polling places they are not committed to finding volunteers to staff.

“If we are going to [vote for it] we must staff it,” Baron said immediately prior to the vote. The council approved the new polling place by a vote of seven to two with one abstention.

Gerena, who told the Gazette in June he planned to resign as chair of the JPNC so he could organize the election—a requirement under recent election rules changes—told the Gazette he officially resigned in early August. The election will be run by an Ombuds Committee made up of himself, Colleen Keller from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and Ann Sylvester from City Councilor John Tobin’s office, he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Gerena at jesus@hydesquare.org.

Other business

Andrea Howley, head of the JPNC Parks and Open Space Committee, said that group sent a letter to state officials asking that funding be restored for the Franklin Park Zoo’s budget. Last month, according to media reports, zoo officials said they might have to euthanize some animals after zoo funding was cut from $6.5 million to $2.5 million.The state legislature this week voted to restore zoo funding to $5 million.

The funding came as part of a $40 million supplement to the state budget passed by the state legislature in late July. “We were happy to be able to put back what we were able to,” state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who supported the supplemental funding, told the Gazette, “It’s an issue the public is going to be passionate about, [protecting] children, the elderly and animals—the most vulnerable…”

The JPNC also got a report back from JPNC member Red Burrows— who represents the JPNC on the Jackson Square Citizen’s Advisory Committee—about progress on a major redevelopment project in that area. [See related article.]

JPNC member Michael Reiskind made a suggestion that any new streets added in the development project be named after prominent Latinos. Reiskind noted that many JP street names reflect previous waves of German and immigration to the area. The plans currently call for one street to be constructed, connecting Amory Street to Centre Street. That cut through is currently referred to as the Amory Street Extension.

Reiskind said his suggestion was a “personal request,” not a JPNC policy.