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shaker square area development members vote down proposed merger with buckeye

A proposed merger between two nonprofit community development organizations appears to be dead on arrival following a contentious vote held last weekend. In a narrow decision swayed by a mere four votes, one group's membership shot down the long-planned consolidation.

If the merger had passed, it would have combined the Shaker Square Area Development Corporation (SHAD) and the Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC) into a new organization called the Buckeye-Shaker Square Community Alliance. The merger was first proposed two years ago due to cuts in the City of Cleveland's Community Development Block Grant funding as well as foundation funding. The CDC intermediary Neighborhood Progress (NPI) encouraged the merger and provided grant funding to assist with the process.

For the merger to take place,  a majority "yes" vote was needed from SHAD's individual and business membership. The final vote tally was 57-53 against it.

The upset vote effectively means that SHAD must lay off its five staff people and close its doors within a few weeks. It also leaves the area without a CDC.

"I was very disappointed by the vote, and disgusted by the active campaign by some of our own board members and people in the community to encourage SHAD members to vote no," says Kenisha Pierce, Board President of SHAD and Manager of the Shaker Square branch of PNC Bank. "After two years of planning, we don't have funding for salaries or even to keep the lights on."

At the meeting, some SHAD members asked for changes to the merger documents that would have added greater board representation from their neighborhood and placed more decision-making power in the hands of community members. They also stated that there was not enough community input into the process.

Pierce says that several community meetings were held, and that any changes to the merger documents would have required going back to the negotiation table. The boards of both organizations had already voted to support the merger.

"These same people who wanted a voice never exercised their rights," says Pierce, who cites poor turnout at meetings. "We were trying to build a new organization."

SHAD members and trustees in opposition stated that amendments to the merger documents should have been considered. Among those opposed were SHAD Trustee and retired judge Diane Karpinski and former board president and attorney George Palda. These concerns were expressed vocally at the meeting, but Pierce ended the meeting and called for a vote without discussion.

Pierce has not given up hope that the Shaker Square-Larchmere neighborhood will continue to be served by a CDC. She says that it is possible that merger talks could be revived, or that another way could be found to create the new organization. John Hopkins, Executive Director of BADC, stated that he could not comment on next steps until he met with his board of directors.

Community members opposed to the merger also vowed to save SHAD. As the meeting concluded, some could be heard saying, "We're not done yet."

Shaker Square Area Development Corporation was originally formed in 1976 as Friends of Shaker Square. The organization now has approximately 1,000 members. Shaker Square is the oldest shopping district in Ohio and the second oldest in the nation, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Source: Kenisha Pierce
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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