Neighborhood Association Claims Identity Theft in English Avenue
(APN) ATLANTA — The English Avenue Neighborhood Association, formed in 1995 to represent the low-income residential neighborhood of English Avenue west of downtown Atlanta, finds itself in the middle of a major dispute around the future of development, and the threat of gentrification.
Yet, in a series of events dramatic enough for a telenovela–two groups of English Avenue residents are now purporting to be the English Avenue Neighborhood Association (EANA).
One group–led by Laura Lawson and Tony Torrence–says the real EANA has been eclipsed by a group of disgruntled members who decided to call themselves EANA.
Lawson, Torrence, State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), and others say the new EANA has stolen their identity; and received City funds, and made land use recommendations in their name.
Atlanta Progressive News has spoken with numerous community members on both sides of the debate, and consulted Robert’s Rules of Order, to produce this article, which seeks to shed light on the situation.
WILL THE REAL ENGLISH AVENUE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION PLEASE STAND UP?
At the September 2017 EANA meeting, elections were held. Lawson, the former resident association president of the Herndon Homes public housing community, and the only person to run for President, was elected President. Torrence was elected Vice President.
Joan Vernon, the President at the time, conducted the election; and was to serve until Sept. 30, at which time Lawson was supposed to take over.
The day after the election, Vernon tells APN that she began receiving complaints from members of the community about Lawson and Torrence, raising questions about whether they lived in the district or were eligible to serve in leadership. Vernon says she received pictures and emails in regards to these residency questions.
However, Vernon did not call a meeting to address these issues before the end of her term.
Instead, Vernon began the process to start a new organization called the English Avenue Stakeholder’s Association, which she incorporated with the Georgia Secretary of State on Sept. 30, 2017.
Then, instead of activating the newly incorporated organization, Vernon decided she could stay on as President of EANA past the end of her term; strike the results of the September 2017 election; and hold a new election.
Vernon, who was no longer President, purported to call a November 04, 2017 meeting of the EANA. At that purported meeting, she presided over a new election where Rev. Howard Beckham of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church was elected President and she was elected Vice President.
From then on, the Beckham-Vernon group acted as if they were the EANA. They received 2,500 dollars from Neighborhood Planning Unit-L (NPU-L). They made land use recommendations to NPU-L.
Even though NPU-L was aware of the dispute between the two groups, NPU-L recognized the Beckham-Vernon group as the legitimate group.
Pamela Flores, Chair of NPU-L, wrote a letter on June 06, 2018 stating that EANA had approved of the proposed Brock Built Communities development.
The letter did not acknowledge any community dispute regarded who is the legitimate EANA; it simply represented the Beckham-Vernon group as the legitimate group.
Flores did not return a voicemail seeking comment.
Vernon told APN that she believed Robert’s Rules of Order supported her actions to stay on as chair past the end of her term in order to rescind the Sept. 2017 election and conduct a new election.
However, Robert’s Rules of Order, current eleventh edition, does not support her position; and shows that Vernon was out of order.
“An election to an office becomes final immediately if the candidate is present and does not decline,” section 46, p. 444.
“An officer-elect takes possession of his [sic] office immediately upon his election’s becoming final, unless the bylaws or other rules specify a later time,” p. 444. In this case, the bylaws provided for Lawson to become President beginning on October 01, 2017.
Robert’s Rules provide that, other than in a case of a recount, “an election may be contested only by raising a point of order.” p. 445.
Therefore, Vernon could have called an emergency meeting in September and a member could have raised a point of order then. Alternatively, Vernon or another EANA member could have attended the November meeting, chaired by Lawson, and raised a point of order then.
Instead, Vernon, contrary to Robert’s Rules, stayed on as chair and held a new election that appears to be of null legal effect.
Beckham has recently resigned as the co-called Chair of EANA, and he tells APN he has now reconsidered what transpired.
“As I’ve reconsidered this, I think we should have gone to Laura’s meeting. That should’ve been what happened. My thinking at the time was that Joan was President, she had the right to do it [hold a new election]. But the body had voted. If they had concerns, they should’ve gone to that [Laura’s] meeting,” Beckham told APN.
30 DAY HOLD SOUGHT ON BROCK BUILT DEVELOPMENT AS COMMUNITY REGROUPS
At a packed meeting of NPU L, which includes Atlanta’s English Avenue community, the NPU voted, fourteen to four, to seek a thirty day hold on any decision of the City Council or the City Council Zoning Committee regarding the Brock Built proposal for high-end housing, a hotel, and retail and commercial space at the corner of Northside Drive and Donald Lee Hollowell Avenue.
The project is exposing class divisions and divisions about the future of the community.
The developer, Brock Built Communities, is proposing a massive development they once referred to as “Echo Street Communities, and they are now calling “Westside Yards.”
The development, as currently proposed, would include forty town homes; 650 apartments; a 120 room hotel; and commercial and office space. It would be a “mini-Atlantic Station,” Rev. Beckham told APN, saying he shares the desire to slow down the process for a project of that scale.
Many low-income residents and advocates are concerned that the development will have a gentrifying impact on the community, causing nearby housing values to rise, and thus causing rents to rise for renters and property taxes to rise for homeowners.
Currently, there are not enough proactive buffers to prevent a full-scale gentrification should the development be approved.
That is, there are not enough proactive policies in place to preserve existing affordable housing, or to provide new affordable housing units that will remain affordable for a time certain, if not in perpetuity, as higher-end development is to come online in English Avenue.
Even a mandatory Inclusionary Zoning policy for the Westside Overlay that applies to this project only requires housing units to be affordable at 80 percent of the Area Median Income – which can mean rents well over 1,000 dollars per month.
At the NPU L meeting, two representatives of Brock Built came to make a presentation to the community; however, in a matter of seconds, they distributed their document, said they were there for informational purposes only, and offered to answer any questions.
One community member, Tillman Ward, asked what studies they had done to determine there was a demand for high-end housing.
Brock Built said they had done a study of the “current and future demand,” clearly referring to outside residents coming into the community, then saying their study was proprietary and not available to be the public.
One community member asked Councilman Ivory Lee Young (District 3), who was present at the meeting, to weigh in on the EANA dispute.
Councilman Young said he was aware of the dispute involving the two EANA’s and that he does not take sides in neighborhood disputes.
Young said he believed there was a right answer and a wrong answer in this matter, and that he believed a third party, possibly a court, needed to get involved to determine it.
In the meantime, the Lawson-Torrence group, the duly elected EANA, continues to meet even though they are not being recognized by the NPU L.
On March 14, 2018, prior to his resignation, Rev. Beckham filed an annual report with the Secretary of State listing himself as CEO, Thelma Reneau as CFO, and Richard Singletary as Secretary of EANA.
“The question I think today is… do low-wealth, working class, or poor people have a right to control, direct, or even have a voice in their own community empowerment?” State Rep. Thomas said at the meeting.
“It’s not a matter that you had meetings, what you don’t know is there’s two neighborhood associations operating in this neighborhood. One is the duly elected one that was elected in September  when we had our regular meeting,” Rep. Thomas said.
“And the other one decided they wasn’t gonna give up their power, and they proceeded on to be themselves, and then put in Rev. Beckham as the President,” Thomas said.
“And people like our Councilmember and other people who are in the know, know exactly what’s going on, and sometimes it’s convenient to say I’m not going to be involved in neighborhood stuff,” Thomas said.
“You met with a lot of different people, but I submit to you at least eight of those meetings of the ten that you mentioned… was with the wrong organization,” Thomas said.
“That’s the way they do poor people,” she said.
The May 2018 NPU L meeting was adjourned by Pam Flores before the NPU membership could make a decision regarding the Brock Built development, Rep. Thomas said.
“And we didn’t see y’all until right now,” she said.
“Can you imagine, seventeen acres being developed and you don’t even have a chance in the NPU to speak about it, which is what they say you’re supposed to do?” Thomas said.
“We have not been treated fairly… We are just being run over like crazy, and it’s ridiculous, and I don’t care how many times you do it – it don’t make it right,” Thomas said. “When you poor, they think you can get treated any kind of way.”
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)