Civic discord lingers over Columbia-Savin Hill committees

In what has become a monthly occurrence, Monday night's general meeting of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association was marred by infighting and shouting matches, as a lingering dispute over the association's bylaws and voting rules continues to swirl.

At last month's meeting, the membership voted to suspend all voting by the association's various committees. Under the motion, the association's various committees would still meet, but any matters requiring a vote would be put before the full association at the monthly meeting.

However, that vote was overruled last month by civic association President Bob Donovan, who argues that the motion would effectively halt any action by the association. Donovan announced his "executive decision" in a letter printed in the March edition of the civic group's newsletter.

Donovan's move drew sharp criticism Monday night as members questioned whether the president, in fact, has the authority to set aside motions passed by the association. However, debate on the matter was quickly halted after Joe Chaisson made a motion for a vote of confidence in Donovan's decision. That vote passed 19-14.

The Planning Committee then made its presentation and the association voted in support of two proposals. The first allows Sovereign Bank to hire a new contractor to handle parking in its lot near the Bayside Expo Center provided that the new contractor adhere to a parking plan outlined in 2005. The other proposal allows a Circuit City, to be opened in the former home of Stop & Shop supermarket at the South Bay Mall, to operate two installation bays in the rear of its store. The bays would be spaces where customers could have stereo components and other electronics installed in their vehicles.

The association moved through other committee reports and then appointed its Elections Committee, which will oversee the nomination and election of officers in April and May. The association's vice president, Ed Geary, reported on last month's meeting of the By-laws Committee and announced that a second meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 27 at the McLaughlin Center. Geary said that the hope is to have a revised set of by laws available for review by the full association at the April meeting.

The association then moved on to new business and it was here that the debate about Donovan's decision began anew.

John Cavanaugh, who had earlier in the meeting questioned Donovan's authority to set aside the motion from the February meeting, asked that the association take up the matter at the next month's meeting.

A discussion followed, and civic member Frank Baker asked if Planning Committee Chair Bill Cotter could come before the full association and explain his reasoning for limiting the size of the committee. Cotter's decision to limit the size to 14-voting members triggered last month's vote to suspend all voting in committees. Donovan had stated earlier in Monday's meeting that Cotter explained his rationale for limiting the size of the committee at the Executive Board meeting, and that his explanation there was what led him to ultimately set aside the motion.

Baker took issue with the precedent set by Donovan's decision and asked what was to stop the association president from setting aside other decisions made by the association.

"I think the group as a whole has been wronged," said Baker.

Other members suggested that Donovan and Cotter were colluding to exclude members from participating in the Planning Committee.

"It's very circumspect and very shady," said Paul Nutting. "They don't want certain people there [at Planning Committee meetings] and they don't want certain people voting."

The argument continued until Chaisson, citing the vote of confidence taken earlier, made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Before a vote could be taken, Baker stormed out of the meeting, stating that similar tactics are always used to limit discussion. The motion subsequently passed.

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