New leadership at Greater Bustleton Civic League presents opportunity for transparency

This is the first in a two-part report on leadership changes within the Greater Bustleton Civic League.

The Greater Bustleton Civic League voted May 23 to replace many governing board positions. Accusations of poor leadership caused tension within the civic association and played a heavy role in the election, which led to the installment of a new president, vice president, corresponding secretary, recording secretary and treasurer.

Some Bustleton residents described the league as disorganized and have alleged past members of misleading the group about zoning, miscounting votes and failing to effectively communicate with members and each other.

“What’s great about the league is we do have a lot of very passionate people,” said Myles Gordon, former GBCL vice president a current 15-year member. “The problem is some discussions can get a bit contentious.”

Gordon agreed that there were flaws in the league’s administration, but said he believes in outgoing President John McKeever and questioned the motives of former Vice President and President-Elect Jack O’Hara.

“McKeever made great leaps and bounds, and had incredible integrity,” Gordon said . “He ran a tight ship. The new president has his vision, but he just hasn’t explained it to us yet. He says he wants change, but doesn’t clarify how to accomplish it. He has big shoes to fill.”

To O’Hara, the league’s new direction is very clear.

“Social media, getting out there and being more active in the community are all really important goals,” O’Hara said. “We need to rework our website, and get younger people involved, that’s key.”

Social media importance was also stressed by longtime active member and recently re-elected Corresponding Secretary Maureen Greene.

Maureen Greene has been re-elected as corresponding secretary of the Greater Bustleton Civic League. Photo/Erin Dungee
(Maureen Greene has been re-elected as corresponding secretary of the Greater Bustleton Civic League. Photo/Erin Dungee)

“Using social media will really help us get more members and that’s a big concern,” said Greene. “We want to get e-mail addresses and more households responding to community interests.”

Early June 4, GBCL members receive an email from the board. Attached was a detailed agenda for the final meeting of the season, June 20, and a “President’s Corner” note from O’Hara. As of then, impending changes to the organization’s website had not yet been made. As of June 7, Greene said the new administration had not yet been given the password to begin updating the website (updated from an earlier version of the story).

Greene said the league has been active since the early ’40s and is one of the longest-running community organizations in Philadelphia. She said the group’s membership, according to McKeever, was up to 400 families. But Greene said more than 100 of those families had not paid dues. This, and an inactive and unaware younger community are troublesome to the league’s new leadership.

“We get a lot of the, ‘I didn’t even knows,’ and that’s what we’re trying to put a stop to,” Greene said.

Gordon agreed that membership should be a concern, but stressed the need for better meetings, asserting that out of a two-and-a-half hour meeting, one-and-a-half is filled by zoning.

“These meetings tend to become bogged down in zoning,” Gordon said, “but we have issues that the League should be weighing in on instead.”

One issue Gordon said the League has ignored up to this point is the new PECO ‘smart’ meters that debuted in March. PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez explained to NewsWorks in April that the meters give PECO the ability to read the meter remotely, which would provide two-way communication for customers.

“These ‘smart’ meters have been said to cause radiation poisoning,” Gordon said. “This is something the Bustleton community needs to know about.”

A PECO spokesperson has been invited to the June 20 GBCL meeting, and according to the email the board sent out, Pa. Reps. Kevin and Brendan Boyle will arrange for a Public Utility Commission spokesperson to be on hand, as well.

As for zoning, Greene readily disagreed with the claim that the board has misled members about Bustleton zoning.

“I wouldn’t say the league has misled members,” she said, “but I do think there is room for better knowledge regarding zoning.”

O’Hara agreed by explaining how difficult it is to understand city zoning laws because they change so frequently. Zoning issues have been at the forefront of the organization’s meetings, and Greene said there have been some great successes.

In 2009 there was a move to build a methadone clinic, as Greene explained, “and opposing the business’ construction gained us publicity and the highest membership we’ve ever had.”

New Greater Bustleton Civic League leadership

President: Jack O’Hara

Vice President: Harry Haberkern

Recording Secretary: Marlene Markowitz

Corresponding Secretary: Maureen Greene

Treasurer: Bob Hall

However, the league has had its share of community controversy. In April, the Northeast Times described board members showing strong support for the expansion of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church at 9620 Krewstown Rd., while many neighbors of the church disagreed with the variance approval. One neighbor even questioned the intentions of the church, comparing it to a social club rather than a religious assemblage.

O’Hara and Greene agreed that the league must sometimes make difficult, even highly opposed decisions, which can lead to tension within the board and within the league entirely.

“It can be difficult to even find people to want to volunteer for the board because you have to disappoint someone,” Greene said.

Gordon said his main concern is that the new headship will be just as misguided as the past leaders if they allow their disagreements to come between them or the other members. He and other GBCL members are looking forward to the next meeting: “I think we need to work together and leave past elections in the past for the betterment of Bustleton and the City of Philadelphia.”

Erin Dungee is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

Editor’s note: This post has been clarified to include more up to date membership numbers for the GBCL.

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