I see confusion and division
as outcomes of the failed merger of the Buckeye area and Shaker Square
community development organizations. Here is my view of why this
About balance and fairness
Years ago I worked on our city's largest
educational merger, the federation of Case Institute of Technology and
Western Reserve University that created Case Western Reserve University. I
was on the staff of
a study commission which reported to a joint committee of
Case and WRU trustees. In enrollment and faculty,
Western Reserve was about twice the size of Case. Realizing that an unbalanced
committee could "kill" any deal from the start, the committee had an equal number of trustees from each
The merger of these neighboring community
development corporations was never
It began unbalanced, with the Buckeye area group
stronger, followed by a year when the Buckeye
group became more dominant and the Shaker Square area group (SHAD) grew weaker. In the last month a
very weak SHAD
group received no respect. The process ended by punishing those
who had denied Buckeye the merger it sought -- and could so easily have had.
From the start in late 2010 when the merger planning committee
was formed, Buckeye area representatives were given a majority vote.
Equality wasn't considered, even on this short-term committee. It wasn't only that Buckeye had a larger staff and a
stronger balance sheet. Neighborhood Progress Inc., the
foundation-supported group through which much money for CDCs flows, wanting
to combine smaller CDCs into larger stronger ones, had told the Shaker
Square group that its funding was ending. The Buckeye-area CDC might be expecting to expand,
but SHAD (the Shaker Square area CDC) was
facing an uncertain future.
In the fall of 2011, SHAD lost its executive director and
did not fill the position.
Now it had become even weaker. Such inequality can embolden the stronger group and cause the weaker group to feel
powerless. The resulting tensions can lead to unpredictable results.
In January 2012 the merger agreement was made public. It
shows how Buckeye's dominance had grown. Though SHAD had more than a
third of the members of the merger planning committee, its share of the proposed board of trustees
dropped to under 25 percent. I don't know
the population of the Buckeye and Shaker Square areas, but with the
merger plan calling for a 21-person board next
year, here are estimated shares and the population-based trustee positions
for Shaker Square area residents.
SHAD share of population
If the SHAD area has 45 percent of the
total Buckeye-SHAD population (my estimate), it should have 9 seats
on a 21 person board. But the "deal" gave the Shaker Square area only 5 trustees,
much less than an equitable outcome. The Buckeye group was showing
its control of the deliberations.
Merger approval required each CDC to
get approval by its board of trustees, followed by
the vote of its membership.
Then what went wrong?
In late January 2012 the merger process seems
to have lost respect for the Shaker
Square area group. The proximate cause was the Code of
Regulations (bylaws). Though part of the merger
agreement, the bylaws was not shown to SHAD trustees until January 20. The
meeting of January 23, at which they were to vote on the agreement,
was their first chance to comment.
Some SHAD trustees strongly objected to:
The lack of a guarantee that even the
small number of promised seats on the board would continue.
The lack of an assurance that the
SHAD area would be represented in the
The new organization having a
self-perpetuating board. That would end 36 years of member voting. (SHAD members don't attend Board meetings but do vote
on officers and bylaws.)
The lawyer, having come from the
Buckeye meeting, then told the trustees that the Buckeye
just voted to approve the agreement with the new
bylaws. SHAD could not make changes to the bylaws.
"Disrespect" is a modern urban term. The SHAD trustees
must have sensed it keenly.
The bylaws ignored
long-held values and was presented in a way that prevented
At their meeting of January 23, the SHAD
board voted for the merger. They accepted an unfairly small
minority position and much more, for the good of the community and the
continuation of programs and staff. Days later a
small group of present and
past SHAD leaders began to
draft bylaws amendments they planned to offer at the membership meeting.
The February 25 membership meeting was a controlled event
that denied them the chance to speak. It was a member-shouting, gavel-pounding disaster. The merger was
rejected. [more on the meeting]
Snatching defeat out
of the jaws of victory
The vote (53 YES and 57 NO), cast after
the brief but stormy meeting, was so close as to suggest that most SHAD
members had come to the meeting ready to vote YES on the merger.
But the meeting was conducted coldly, the president
reading a prepared statement. Just as the board meeting had given no voice to SHAD trustees, the membership meeting,
in an iron-fisted style,
gave members no voice. Pushed too hard, many members pushed back
by voting NO.
Twice in the last month of a very long merger process the Buckeye
CDC and its advisors
had gone too far. Like our
Cleveland Browns, who get near the goal line and then can't get over it, they had fumbled the final steps.
The merger effort failed because its leaders and advisors acted without
respect for the Shaker Square area group. They should have known better.
They should have acted better.
From disrespect to punishment
That insensitivity continued after the
membership meeting. There was no post-February 25th meeting to discuss a
Instead, the powers-that-be orchestrated a resignation of the SHAD
board, turning loose a weakened organization, with debts and little
assured funding, to reorganize and fend for itself.
Now, instead of the amicable creation of a
Buckeye - Shaker community development organization that could more effectively serve
area, we are left with confusion and division. SHAD, with new leaders, is
working energetically to re-think its mission and to continue to serve this area,
but it will not be easy.
We've also heard that the
Buckeye area group plans to change its name to Buckeye - Shaker, to add
trustees from the SHAD area, and to operate as if the merger had been
And now, what?
My hope is that Neighborhood Progress, Inc., its president Joel Ratner, its
major funder, the Cleveland Foundation, and others will recognize that it is not
too late to resolve this situation, to the benefit of all.
March 31, 2012
The author, who earned a PhD in Management at Case, is a
former professor and software executive, who for years
consulted with the Cleveland Foundation. He was a member of
the old Friends of Shaker Square, served on
the SHAD board, and is a SHAD member. He has owned a
condominium near the
Square since 1992 and since 2004 has been
the volunteer webmaster of the
independent Shaker Square website.