OHAN president Darryl Pruett, center, makes a point as other board members look on.
by Leah Gernetzke
OAK HILL – The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods took steps toward fostering internal transparency and efficiency at its meeting Wednesday, March 11 at ACC Pinnacle. Board officials went back and forth with members, who voiced their concerns over recent mis-communications between the two entities.
One of the main issues of contention involved letters that newly-elected board president Darryl Pruett wrote to the Austin City Council via email in January. In the letters, Pruett expressed OHAN’s support of the current zoning status of approximately 35 acres of properties along South Mopac, just north of William Cannon Drive, referred to as the McComis-Garza properties. In 2006, OHAN members had voted to support the area’s zoning classification as community commercial- mixed use – conditional overlay- neighborhood plan.
However, the issue recently re-emerged because of a request to increase the area’s allotment of daily trips that are currently allowed under its zoning conditions. Western Oaks Property Owners Association and other OHAN member groups raised concerns about potential consequences that would arise from such an increase in traffic and development.
In his most recent letter to City Council, Pruett stated:
“The owner group attended our February meeting on February 11, 2015, and provided information about the TIA [traffic impact analysis] and the proposed development. As a result of further meetings with Dan Wheelus and the owner group, Western Oaks has now submitted a letter in support of the change in daily trips. I understand that two or three OHAN member associations have sent letters opposing the trip count change. I want to make clear that OHAN has not taken a formal position on the trip count change. In fact, at our February meeting, a resolution opposing the changing of the daily trip limits was proposed and, after discussion, was withdrawn by the member neighborhood who had proposed it. The recent letter dated February 23, 2015, from Maple Run could be erroneously interpreted as implying that OHAN opposes the requested change in the daily allowable trips from the current amount of 6,000 tpd. OHAN does not oppose the requested change; OHAN has not taken a position for or against the change.”
(Pruett’s letters are also available to the public on OHAN’s website: http://ohanweb.wix.com/ohan#!resolutions/ccjp)
Pruett said he assumed that because of the group’s consensus on the issue in 2006, he did not think the letter needed to be formally approved by the membership.
“My understanding, from talking to Jim—he was the president in December—was that nobody said anything about it, I figured we were all still in support of this, and I wrote the letter. So, that’s the way that letter came about,” he said. “We’re not talking about a position on something new that OHAN hasn’t had a vote on. OHAN is in favor of the current zoning on those tracks of land, and all they’re talking about is changing the conditions of zoning.”
Several OHAN members disagreed with Pruett’s reasoning.
“In order for the board to write a letter to a body like City Council, or take any public position, that position should be provided to the membership well in advance so the membership can review it, and if the membership does not vote to approve the board taking a position, then the board should not write a letter taking a position. The by-laws are clear on that,” said OHAN member Cynthia Wilcox. “To me, and the people I know, that was the concern about transparency, that the board on three separate occasions wrote a letter taking a position without the knowledge or consent of the membership.”
Board officials agreed with members, that in the future, if a resolution was passed more than five years ago, the issue needs to be re-discussed with the membership.
Another internal issue the group discussed was not having enough time in their monthly meetings to fully consider proposed resolutions, which consequently rushes their decision-making process.
Pruett said the organization could remedy this issue by sharing proposed resolutions with all members before the meeting.
To further streamline group communication, OHAN also passed a resolution to re-establish a pre-existing but currently closed Yahoo discussion group. Pruett will be authorized to set reasonable rules of conduct for discussion in the online group.
Another topic of discussion was whether or not the organization should include vote counts on resolutions that are sent to City Council. Several members agreed that including low vote counts made the group seem unorganized and lacking in participation.
Members and board officials agreed that unanimous votes and majority votes can be labeled as such, instead of putting the exact vote count on all resolutions.
“I think that would be more powerful,” Pruett said.
However, some members said a low vote count was not necessarily a negative representation of the group.
“Please remember that the United States public and the state of Texas have a large percentage of people who don’t bother to do anything. So we run ourselves all the time that way,” said OHAN member Jim Beckett.
Members also discussed creating new committees based on geographic location. Pruett said he thought the committees would allow for more relevant dialogue among neighborhoods. However, the idea was tabled until the next scheduled meeting, with several members stating that forming new committees isn’t necessary yet.
“Sometimes geography isn’t the be-all, end-all. With the yahoo discussion group opened up, maybe people can find each other and coalesce about issues and request a meeting,” Wilcox said. “Instead of forcing that, maybe we can give it six months with lots of openness and transparency and communication, and the board listening to the membership, and see how it goes, and then maybe re-visit the idea of committees then, after we’ve had more of a chance to have openness and transparency.”