Walking along the shore of Juanita Beach Park, one cannot miss the telltale signs of economic development a mere hundred yards away -- construction cranes stretching to the sky. Below them are a couple of packed coffee shops, a handful of restaurants and retailers and hundreds of multifamily units. As one of the few bustling development areas in town right now, Juanita looks to have the right mix of location, population and demand to entice developers to risk new construction. From this vantage point, Juanita seems to be doing quite well.
But under the surface, one finds the good-hearted, well-intentioned volunteer citizens of this historic neighborhood struggling amongst themselves for control of the Juanita Neighborhood Association (JNA). Contention, politics, confusion and drama aptly describe the scene at the Juanita Neighborhood Association's Annual Meeting held Monday night at Juanita Elementary School.
Juanita is in flux. More than any other neighborhood, Juanita is taking the brunt of Kirkland's annexation growing pains. With annexation, Kirkland extended its city limits to the north and welcomed 33,000 as citizens of Kirkland. Two new neighborhoods were formed: Finn Hill and Evergreen Hill (formerly known as Kingsgate). Between the two lies the Juanita neighborhood which was expanded in size as residents of North Juanita merged with the JNA.
This transition has not been easy. The board of the JNA initially expanded to include representatives of both north and south Juanita. Then participation in the neighborhood association began to wane as leaders moved away or dropped out of participating in regular meetings. It became apparent to the few remaining volunteers in charge that the organization needed new volunteers and new bylaws were proposed to help pave a path for a successful future of the JNA.
Then things got ugly.
Some members of the board and the body as a whole accused each other of misrepresenting facts and manipulating the meetings. Some on Monday questioned the legitimacy of board members. Others were accused of strong-arm politics and misusing their positions to squelch dissenting opinions.
It was sad to see such contention in a neighborhood meeting, but overall, everyone behaved in an orderly fashion.
The annual JNA meeting was opened by the (contested) chair, Mirza Avdic who proclaimed that the meeting would be conducted under Roberts Rules of Order. Within seconds, motions came from the floor followed by a chorus of folks questioning Avdic's authority to run the meeting, his legitimacy as chair and the legality of his being a member of the JNA board. Avdic, who no longer lives in Kirkland and is a self-proclaimed "community advocate and organizer, and a lifelong philanthropist", was silenced by other members of the JNA board who proceeded to conduct the meeting, entertain motions and advance a separate agenda including the election of new officers.
Only after members of the body requested that Avdic be heard, was he granted time to present his prepared slideshow promoting changes to the JNA bylaws.
Advic claims to be eligible to run the JNA despite his not being a resident of Kirkland because he has a non-profit, Charipix, with a Kirkland address (it appears that JNA bylaws require each member to either be a resident of Kirkland, a business owner in Kirkland, or have a non-profit in Kirkland). Further investigation of Advic's claims reveal he does not meet these requirements. Advic's charity, Charipix (www.charipix.org) is only a website at this time. Advic claims that the paperwork for the charity is being processed by the state which may explain why the name is not yet registered with the State of Washington Corporations Division. The claim that one has applied for non-profit status with the state is not equivalent to one actually receiving non-profit status from the state. By Advic's own admission, his charity is not yet recognized by Washington State and therefore does not exist.
When it came time for the election of a new board and officers, it was clear that Avdic and his supporters had been marginalized. Avdic did not even attempt to run for a position.
The scene was mildly contentious and fortunately for all, Audra Weber of the KPD who was present at the request of the city, was not needed to keep order.
What was most disconcerting about the meeting was the level of drama and energy expended by so many. Everyone in attendance was there for one reason: to improve the future of their neighborhood. Everyone was a volunteer doing their best to promote a vision of a better Juanita. Such levels of volunteerism and passion are vital to an organization.
The body elected a new chair, Julie Metteer, and half a dozen other officers who will undoubtedly put this contentious meeting behind them and chart a new course for success of the neighborhood.
As the new leadership of the JNA take office, they know they have their work cut out for them. The neighborhood association has less than $100 in the bank and it is in need of more volunteers willing to help build its future.
Looking ahead, the JNA has a few projects in the hopper which will help create a sense of community which include installing historical markers at Juanita Beach Park, enlisting volunteers to help with various beautification projects and resurrecting the successful Juanita Neighborhood Banners project of a few years ago. Metteer and her team will have to settle unresolved concerns about the organization's bylaws at a future special meeting. A refresher course on Roberts Rules for board members might also be well-advised to avoid the confusion in future meetings.
Reflecting upon the wild JNA meeting, I can't help but compare it to my past experience as a member of the Norkirk Neighborhood Association and its current state of dysfunction. At the present, Norkirk, as a neighborhood association, is all but defunct as the volunteers who have for so long generously given their time and energy can no longer continue to serve. New volunteers have yet to be found and there are few in the wings willing take the lead. Norkirk needs new volunteers with energy and passion. Juanita seems to have members with these traits and this will serve the community well.
Whatever challenges lie ahead for the Juanita Neighborhood Association, the passion and energy of a few dedicated community leaders will make the difference. The trick will be to expand participation beyond the few on the board and create a lasting organization. We wish them all the best.