Building Addison Rd Community Centre healthy democracy* beyond influence peddling, self interest
Topic: local news
* dedicated to a humble gardener and my hero Eddie Mabo.
The ARC is 3.4 hectares of prime inner city land the majority of which is open space, dedicated to the community with 35 tenancies of theatre, arts, non profit recycling, markets and cultures. It’s a genuine jewel of social capital in this city:
Like most people who work there I loathe the ARC and love it as well. It’s like one’s own family really. You can’t stand being in the same room at times but you know they are your own blood and tissue as well and there is no escaping the emotional ties not in this life, and probably not the next. A real quandary cie la vie. From the whimsical feministas at Reverse Garbage to the old dog at The Bower with Hansonite tendencies. Certainly honest effective communication is a big part of the challenge at such a place, with emphasis on honesty.
Stephen Mayne has written of this default fraught nature of community politics in his People Power party in the Victorian elections via ezine crikey.com.au, and in that case it ended in tears
Crikey - Politics Etc - Stephen Mayne’s farewell campaign diary
, and it’s no different in many social capital organisations we presume, whether it’s the Greens, Democrats, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society or ARC. The key to avoid the tears is a healthy dose of humour, real moral courage, moderate expectations or less, in short healthy civil society, open debate and norms of behaviour, or as Gandhi says – to aim for integrity not simply to win (note Gandhi did aim to win too).
The ARC as most people will admit has suffered some intractable management problems in its 30 year Indeed the fact there was no 30 year anniversary celebrations in 2006 tells a story in itself. But in our view the dawn is rising and some of the nightmares are well behind us. There are 47 years to run on the community lease from the NSW Government (originally the Commonwealth Govt) and everything to play for to strengthen social fabric. We see a recent moral contest with the Sidetrack Rogue as a late breaking bad dream but it likely will pass too and generally the place is gathering a more honest vigorous and effective democracy and management.
This has not always been the case at the ARC. Dark mutterings of
- “a tarantula in every draw” (attributed to the gallery curator),
- “can of worms” (experienced Greens councillor)
- “grooming Meredith Burgman’s replacement” (elderly tenant),
- “referring the bastards to ICAC” (not this author!),
- “forces of darkness” (staff member)
- "nothing ever happens" (veteran local council outdoor worker)
are giving way to
Picture: Kerry Lindberg, long time resident caretaker with his wife also named Kerrie.
- new safe pedestrian access path,
- open tender for community spaces,
- objective rental formula (!)
- transparent grievance procedure,
- outdoor chess set,
- nursery demonstration garden,
- viable Sunday Market, and
- functioning website portal.
Like lines in the car park achieved by retired manager Neil 2 years ago
after literally 10 years of cheap talk at board level, and who sadly had a heart attack soon after, and cute pocket garden of native plants (deliberately mowed over 3 years ago), the chaos is being sorted into healthy form and structure. There is hope where there was little in this depressed part of Marrickville. But there is also oh so much more hard work to do and still plenty of fluid creativity. Like a bastard political child born out of Whitlam’s anti Vietnam war policy the ARC has become a rather appealing adult with some adolescent rough edges still.
Recently we at SAM ran up against the old boy/girl network at ARC. Our job this last 4 years (at least until recently) involves part time gardening, but also website builder lately, and according to our sense of public duty we pinged a driver parking on the median strip out of area.
Picture: some of the 25 advanced aloe vera plantings by this writer last Thursday at the ARC frontage.
This is a humdrum if delicate matter usually. Please don’t park there, sets a bad example, etc. It’s usually met with responsiveness and cooperation.
But like the Marcus Einfeld saga/tragedy
Einfeld faces jail over $77 ticket - National - smh.com.au
a simple matter of a polite request to move blew up into disturbing old style issue of abuse of power, fraud, defamation, hierarchy and smear by a long time tenant and their political backers, potentially up to the Board level, and there is plenty of water to go under the bridge yet, as our correspondence attached below shows.
In Einfeld’s case a mere $77 parking fine may well see him end up in jail for a quite a time. (I personally find this very sad given my first big (winning) case was before the ex beak in 1991 in the Federal Court as a corporate litigation lawyer.) In the Sidetrack case a trivial parking ‘offence’ (not illegal, but certainly unauthorised, and damn disrespectful) may yet turn into a case study of (ALP) cronyism and fraught community centre politics which might have a much bigger impact on society and democracy than the Einfeld Case will.
On the other hand it is just as likely to be an opportunity at educating the long suffering tenancies in how to assert honest vigorous democracy and equal accountability for high and low, from humble gardener to long time power brokers Don Mamouney or his alleged cipher Stavros Economidis on the Board.
The ARC as most people will admit has suffered some intractable management problems in its 30 year life. Indeed the fact there was no 30 year anniversary celebrations in 2006 is revealing. But in our view the dawn is rising and most of the nightmares are receding to ancient history.
Picture: Terry Cutcliffe curator of Addison Road Gallery in January 2005 and his provocative signage in the style of Image Gallery - Collections - United Colors of Benetton - S/S 2007 ...
But that low scale furore as described in the letter attached below, narrowly avoiding criminal proceedings of the Local Court, is only part of the latest growing pains:
There is this from Max Burgess of the Law Consumers tenancy
, in combo with one of the several anchor tenants Greening Australia (NSW) Ltd (this latter it might be noted is a significant federally funded body but also one of say 4 or 5 anchor tenants):
“Re: CALLING OF A GENERAL MEETING
I note that in the absence of any challenge to the validity of the Notice served on the Secretary on 26 February, 2007 and the expiration of the time (21 days) in which the Directors must call a meeting in accordance with clause 9.2.4 of the Constitution, Greening Australia Ltd and Law Consumers Association Ltd reserve the right to call a meeting of members in accordance with clause 9.3.1 of the Constitution.”
But what is the point of this agitation for what otherwise might be thought of as an 'EGM' or extraordinary general meeting, but technically is a simple general meeting aimed at gazumping a narrow Board meeting as has been the case in the last several years?
[Significantly the centre did have a Board of all tenants but this was changed around 1998 because it was found to be way too big and cumbersome:
"In 1998 it reformed its governance structure, replacing a management committee comprising a representative of each member organisation with a smaller Board that includes 4 Directors elected from members, 2 Directors elected by members who are honorary members (community representatives) and Marrickville Council [This structure itself has also been amended and refined in 2005]." ARC website quoting open source backgrounder by the centre management at ]
There probably is a case for a hybrid process of formal general meetings of all members, and narrow workable Board committee. That is, not just an “open forum” one of which was held in the hyper busy 3 days before the 24th March state election, perhaps to out flank the above (?), and not attended by this writer for lack of notice, prone to accusations of cynical timing (?) .
The notice handed to this writer yesterday by accomplished democracy activist and dedicated Law Consumer stirrer Max Burgess reads as follows:
“The general nature of the meeting’s business is (clause 9.8.2):
- GALLERY / To adopt a policy for the long term management of the Gallery having regard to its development and the income which can be generated for the Centre.
- ADDISON ROAD SIGNS/ That the Board affirms it’s ownership of the signs at the entrance to the Centre and adopts a policy in which these signs can be made available to members of the Centre.
- ASSOCIATE MEMBERS/ That the Constitution of the Centre be amended to accommodate the needs of the Associate members. [we don’t know what this status involves: SAM editor]
- RENT REVIEWS/ That the Board adopts a policy where all members pay the same rent having regard to, but not limited to, quality of premises, location, services available, the circumstances of the member and utilisation.
Further notice is given that other business may arise”
Picture: Sunday markets are doing okay Addison Rd Centre lately, day of the Sydney Bridge Walk March 2007
Who knows, my own part time job at the ARC possibly on the skids might come up?
A potential can of worms indeed, but also an opportunity to take the high road. To reach for integrity not simply to win, to do good for the ARC generally and not for individual interests, for fairness and objectivity in all dealings with no fear or favour, to transcend influence peddling and dishonest postures.
Yep, plenty of water to go under the bridge building a health democracy at the Addison Road Centre. Cie la vie. The key is effective and honest communication like this blog article (we hope and trust).
Declaration: We have an fiduciary solicitor client relationship with one of the Board members on unrelated media matters (John Reynolds, Art Resistance) who has not been consulted on or authorised any of this article (indeed he may be critical of this writer). As stated we are in the paid employ up until this week at least of the ARC for part time gardening and website building. We have never campaigned for/nominated for the ARC Board or applied for a tenancy at the ARC. The ARC accept our snail mail (ecology action sydney) for us via the front office (no letters to date in the age email) for personal security reasons.
From: ecology action australia
To: Yvette Andrews ; Stavros Economidis ;Robert Morrison; Rae Owen ; John Reynolds ; Geoff Hague ; Natalie McCarthy
Cc: gm addison rd centre; office admin arc
Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 7:41 AM
Subject: building more honest democracy at the ARC
Dear ARC Board members
I will meet with Ian Laird today see how you are progressing with my complaint about abuse of power and emotional violence by the Sidetrack manager(s). I will also be progressing the ARC website build which is about 80% done and worth visiting here
Ian Laird foreshadowed this discussion yesterday while I was planting about 25 advanced aloe vera plants into the street frontage pocket gardens which I obtained for free from some building renovators earlier in the week. This was my initiative like many other things at the ARC and elsewhere in the community sector.
At first I was feeling a little nervous anticipating your views, and then I came to a realisation about our relative roles in the community sector and I feel alot better about where to from here.
Here are some ground rules (good pun that) from my perspective before I hear from Ian Laird today:
1. There is no way whilesoever I am employed, or indeed otherwise, I will be giving special treatment to any rogue tenant or pandering to their loud aggressive histrionics or indeed concocted or fraudulent theatrical smears. That's the bottom line the ARC Board have no real say in.
2. The Board can choose as it likes whether to support one of its staff simply doing their public duty, or not. That's a matter for your conscience. Your job is really not that important in the scheme of things. I simply remind you I have legal rights of A. natural justice (to be heard in a fair process) B. to confront Abdi directly within the framework of an ARC grievance procedure I have been promised in lieu of an AVO type legal process. I understand Abdi is posturing and demanding I be gagged etc in my gardening work or interaction with tenants or visitors. In this regard refer to point 5 below.
3. I don't have anything to prove to the Board. On the contrary as a community leader of some 16 years experience and ample qualifications, the Board has to prove itself to people like me, not the other way round. I won't be judged on my moral integrity or professionalism in the community sector by a Board that are only now getting to grasp with their actual responsibilities at the ARC. I've seen what plays for good management there over the last 4 years and learnt enough about the previous 10 years to know what's what. When I first came to work at the centre as a humble gardener the grounds were a disgrace - it was a symptom of the management culture and dysfunctional tenancies itself. I decided to tackle that MANAGEMENT dysfunction in a subtle and indirect way, not by powermongering through board elections or tenure or whatever but by cleaning the place up. One of the first threats I faced was the deeply cynical Gerry playing power games while handling a machete. Do you really think I would be so worried about a Board and its words after that?
Now that this external physical cleanup process is gaining momentum of it's own (only took 4 years) and reaching a natural conclusion regarding my pump priming, it's time to address the root cause of that physical ugliness of 4 years ago, which is the ugliness of influential figures at the centre itself at the management level. This is indeed why this symbolic matter with Abdi goes beyond the trivial car on median strip. It goes to the heart of a balkanised history of emotional violence at the centre.
4. I know what happened with Abdi and that car owner on Friday 16th March. I know I was professional and polite and the request was scorned arrogantly. I know that when this was addressed Abdi launched a disgusting tirade of abuse at myself but also Laird. I know that when I complained a fiction was concocted by Mamouney to cover up for Abdi and the car owner. And I have a useful witness in Jeff Wood proving pretty much my version of events. I'm not for turning, and I'm not for pandering to a politically constrained or influenced Board either. That's not how this works for me. You may be the power at the ARC, but I have my share of influence in the Sydney, NSW, Australia and even a small international degree also with my sister group in Columbia and a few other contacts.. So you have a real balancing act to deal with.
5. Depending on how this plays out I reserve the right to pamphleteer under each and every door at the centre, with or without a paid job, along the lines of my views above. I will have my justice in this situation and the centre's tenants will be educated in honest democracy and they will learn and be responsive to that and take their issues forward. This is all to the good. And then my work at the ARC may well be completed after 5 years and I can move on to more important projects like John Howard's agenda for nuclear weapons in Australia.
Lastly, I have nearly finished updating the centre web site with one reservation, and I have notified about 5 different tenancies of their updates (ACV, Bower, CSC, CCCC, Bush Club, and others are vaguely aware like GA, RG, even updates of Sidetrack including latest event though they are particularly undeserving managers (as distinct from the acting crew). There is the latest clipping on the Food Forest volunteer drive also.
The reservation about the website follows: The website is an overly ambitious interactive tool and no wonder it's rollout stalled. On the other hand it is now a very powerful asset and the portal effect will now be synergistic creating much more profile and publicity for each of the individual groups via internet based society, further enhancing traffic to their own main websites as well. I have yet to work out the method of individual log in/sign on for each tenant (I have been given Ian Laird's password). But it's all in the user manual and I will have worked through that by the end of today all being well (Friday 30th March).
I look forward to hearing Ian's advice (meaning your advice) today. Be assured whatever it is I won't be boxed in by such as Abdi via the politics of the ARC Board. I hope you get it right for the sake of the ARC.
Tom McLoughlin, principal ecology action sydney
Posted by editor
at 11:18 AM NZT
Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007 11:50 AM NZT