New JPNC talks web site, vacancies

David Taber

Icaza resigns, Baron still interested

Fresh from its Sept. 12 election, the new Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its first monthly meeting Sept. 29 at Curtis Hall. The council is four members short coming out of the elections, and many members who sat on the council in its 2007-2008 session expressed strong support for reappointing David Baron, who was narrowly beaten in his bid for an Area B seat.

The vacancies include an Area B seat long held by newly reelected Area B representative Carlos Icaza, who resigned the seat prior to the meeting.

Baron attended the meeting and delivered the JPNC Zoning Committee report from the floor. His leadership on that committee, which he chaired, has earned him praise from many. He previously told the Gazette he would like a seat on the council but would continue to serve as a member of theZZoning Committee even if he is not reappointed.

Ten of the 16 council members who won seats in the election are new, and much of the meeting was devoted to introductions and orientation. Normally, the former council officers would continue as interim officers immediately following the election, but former chair Jesus Gerena and former vice-chair Felix G. Arroyo—who is running for Boston City Council—did not seek reelection, so Michael Reiskind, the last council’s secretary, is serving as interim chair.

The council did not discuss electing permanent officers.

The new group did cover some substantive business, though. Its second official decision—after voting to thank the election ombuds committee for running the election—was to convene an ad hoc committee to construct and maintain a web site for the group.

A similar committee was created shortly after the last JPNC elections in 2007, and while one member, former JPNC member Edmund Cape, set up a Google page for the group, no easily accessible public web site emerged from the effort. Echoing comments by other members, JPNC member Steve Backman, who was involved in the 2007 effort, said it would be relatively easy to set up a web site. “It is harder to commit to keeping the info on it up to date,” he said, asking at least some people joining the committee to be ready to commit to that responsibility.

Council members said it could feature meeting dates and agendas and council member bios and contact info. New council member Jesse Abair said the site would have been a good place to post the rain location for a JPNC polling place at the Jamaica Plain World’s Fair on Election Day after the fair was cancelled and the polling place moved to the Jackson Square Stop & Shop.

Backman and new council members Edith Murnane, David Demerjian and Ben Knappmiller volunteered for the committee.

There are currently four vacancies on the council. There were only two candidates running for five seats in the JPNC’s Area A, (Hyde/Jackson/Egleston Square area). And Carlos Icaza, who was reelected to represent Area B (East of Centre St. between Egleston and Forest Hills), resigned from the council prior to the Sept. 29 meeting.

As the Gazette previously reported, Icaza had attempted to resign right after being reelected, in an apparent effort to offer his seat to Baron.

The council’s election committee determined that an open process would have to be conducted to fill the vacancy should Icaza resign. Following that, Icaza said he would not resign, but he made his final decision in a letter read by Reiskind at the meeting.

“The JPNC has come a long way since I lost my seat…years ago for supporting affordable housing…Today the council supports affordable housing 100 percent and while that is a good position…If we are not to be perceived as a single issue council, we need to expand,” Icaza said in the letter.

The procedure for filling vacancies caused a spot of controversy at the meeting. Reiskind and others said the bylaws allow the council to accept nominations on a rolling basis over a 60-day period before they select and appoint new members. But council member Francesca Fordiani said the bylaws language looks to her like it precludes nominations until 60 days after the vacancies have been announced.

Reiskind, said the council would have to look at the issue further, but he accepted informal declarations of interest from community members.

Jay Zoldak and Peggy O’Connor, who attended the meeting, expressed interest in the Area A seats and at least two other names were mentioned of people who were not present at the time.

Baron, who came in sixth in his bid to be reelected to an area B seat, expressed interest in taking over for Icaza.

Baron has won high praise for his chairing of the JPNC’s Zoning Committee and ad hoc Bylaws Committee. Baron’s defeat came as a surprise to many.

“Whatever you can do to get this guy on [the council]. I would do it,” Gerena, who organized the election, said of Baron after delivering the election report.

Reiskind at one point described Baron’s defeat as a source of “angst” for returning council members.

Fordiani told the Gazette after the meeting that she is concerned that the impression that the council is overly committed to reinstating Baron will discourage other people from standing for the vacant Area B seat.

The council will select new members to fill all four vacancies at its November meeting. Jamaica Plain residents over the age of 16 are welcome to run for any seat, though preference for area seats is given to residents in the area.

Offering commentary from the audience, Colleen Keller, JP coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, recommended that anyone interested in a vacant seat should attend the next JPNC meeting and a few of the council’s committee meetings between now and November. [See JP Agenda.]

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