How could this happen? In this Artvoice story, Geoff Kelly nicely outlines a series of events that ended up with community activist/advocate Harvey Garrett being voted off of the board of the West Side Neighborhood Housing Service.
Garrett has proven himself to be a friend of the community through his work with the West Side Community Collaborative (WSCC) among many other endeavors. Whenever there’s a community problem on the West Side and elsewhere Harvey is ready to lend a hand, and his efforts show.
Garrett contends that the WSNHS, along with voting to change their name to the Greater Buffalo NHS has done a poor job of putting money to the West Side, while they sit on $1.3 million, with potential for more. In a letter to other board members and interested parties that Garrett shared with us, he acquiesced that putting some of that money on the Near East Side and Midtown would be a good move, but he wasn’t cognizant of the change in name and direction the housing service would take at the time. This may have been the quintessential bad move for Garrett.
Eschewing politics in favor of transparency, Garrett, in his own words was often the most vocal and sometimes dissenting voice on the board. A do-gooder who likes to see things done, Garrett apparently blew the whistle one time too many, and the newly formed and city-worker peppered board took him out. The [amended] membership recently grew from 17 to 54 members.
“There were 37 absentee ballots, made up of people from all over, mostly city workers, who paid their $2 and signed up to vote in the board election the day before membership closed,” Garrett said. He has long contended that PUSH and Heart of the City, though they have far less funding, have always gotten more done than the WSNHS, and now it looks as though those other entities may be the only ones pumping time, effort and money into this district that could see a dramatic upswing in livable, affordable housing.
“In the past, the directorship of WSNHS may have been inept, but it was never politically charged, which was the main reason we were able to get some things done,” Garrett contends. WSNHS presently operates under the directorship of Linda Chiarenza, and it looks as if the politics of the organization have shifted. It will be interesting to see where the money from Greater Buffalo NHS goes, and Garrett hopes it won’t simply be following money into high-profile, already gentrified parts of the community.
According to an unnamed source close to the organization: NHS is not interested in serving the neighborhood through the priorities of the people that live there. They have an obnoxious provision in their eligible voting membership category that permits not only neighborhood residents, business people and property owners to be members but also a broad category for people who “express and interest in … the purposes of the Corporation”.
Most legitimate neighborhood based not-for-profits limit the number of voting members in those kinds of “at large” people to a number that won’t overwhelm the vote of the people who live there, and might also make them vote in person. In this instance… there were evidently about 17 ballots voted in person and about 37 absentee ballots. Guess who they were.
This organization did the same thing a few years ago when Modesto Candelario brought in over 100 new members to vote as instructed and most of them were not members the following year.