Austin Neighborhoods Council: A Whole New Book
Civic discourse on the skids
Last Wednesday the Austin Neighborhoods Council voted to change the part of its bylaws that governs how new members get admitted. Since the Seventies, the organization has granted automatic entrance to qualifying neighborhood associations (criteria include having a defined boundary and a minimum of 20 members), though the group's executive committee has had authority to remove any organizations it felt violated the criteria. But after it barred the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association's admittance last summer, the gears began to turn on the bylaw change, which grants the executive committee first say in whether potential members should be let into ANC.
The problem with DANA's application was ostensibly its relationship with the Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, ANC's urbanist foil. So when the executive committee blocked their admittance, ANC took criticism – even from folks within the group, who said the move amounted to a declaration that member organizations must subscribe to a particular ideology, in opposition to the group's esprit de corps. Leadership didn't help matters at last week's meeting by providing the bizarre hypothetical of a racist organization attempting to join their ranks as justification for the rule change.
The final vote was 29 to 5. The dissenting members included the Windsor Park Neighborhood Association, whose delegate, Brian Graham, strongly opposed the change, and in fact resigned from ANC immediately after the vote. In an email after the meeting, Graham (who'd announced his plans in advance) decried the change as a repeal of more than 40 years of organizational precedent. "The bylaw change has the effect of approving a power the ANC executive committee has been claiming for more than two years despite the 'acceptance is automatic' language which has now been removed from the bylaws," he wrote. "It has used that authority to at least twice deny membership to the Downtown Neighborhood Association [sic] but has never explained why the group was not acceptable. Nor did it Wednesday night."
ANC President Jeff Jack explained his fellow voters' reluctance to admit a FAN-associated group to me before the meeting: "The ANC supports existing neighborhood associations in their self-determination. We have a problem when one neighborhood tries to tell one neighborhood what to do, and what we were seeing is some neighborhood associations align themselves with groups that are trying to overpower or usurp or just basically ignore the community's desire for self-determination. [FAN] is certainly part of the issue, because FAN advocates a position that most neighborhoods in Austin don't agree with."