Thursday, January 31, 2008

CBA Operating Agreement

The Public Law Center at Tulane Law School has produced two really useful documents. The first is a CBA Coalition Operating Agreement and set of Principles, and the second is a memo called A "Concentric Circles" Model for Organizing Community Benefits Agreements.

 The Operating Agreement and Principles are intended to govern the internal relations of a CBA Coalition. Each community group must sign it before becoming a coalition member. Although in a better world these rules wouldn't be necessary, internal coalition politics can become problematic.

 The Operating Agreement is designed as a starting point, and coalitions are encouraged to debate its provisions and modify it as they see fit. Having established rules and procedures will help coalitions resolve disputes, and even if an operation agreement isn't ultimately adopted, just debating it is likely to stimulate discussion among coalition members about how these issues should be dealt with. Some important aspects of the Operating Agreement and Principles:

  • individual coalition members are prohibited from taking actions "at variance" with coalition positions.
  • they require, as part of the CBA process, that the coalition must actively seek out other community groups and invite them to be a part of the process.
  • the coalition must participate in a visioning process to define its goals. 
  • a coalition ethics committee must be established to resolve disputes. 
  • any coalition member that stands to receive a direct benefit from a CBA or that will be involved in implementation must recuse itself from negotiations and votes.
  • individual community groups are prohibited from making side deals with the developer or otherwise attempting to improperly influence negotiations.
  • it prohibits anybody who participates in negotiations from getting a job from the developer for a period of one year following completion of the CBA.
  • disputes between a community group and the coalition must be brought to the coalition's membership before being made public.
  • members cannot speak out individually against the project unless they resign.

I particularly like that the Operating Agreement stresses the need for coalitions to actively seek out other community stakeholders to join in their efforts. Coalitions obtain greater bargaining power and more social capital when they are truly representative of community interests. In this regard, I would add to the list that coalitions should be expected to prioritize its goals through community research, whether it be through surveys, door-to-door campaigns, telephone drives or some other manner of reaching individuals who might not otherwise come into contact with a coalition (or go to a public visioning session). Such research should be quantifiable, and although it may be time consuming and expensive, it provides a concrete way to show what benefits are truly desired by the community. Community organizing, and not just coalition organizing, is an important step in developing policies and goals that reflect the needs of residents.

The “Concentric Circles” Model for Organizing Community Benefits Agreements provides a four step process for the CBA process: (1) the coalition must organize, meaning that it must seek out community support and implement internal rules and policies; (2) the coalition must build support among elected officials; (3) the coalition must educate the press, the public and civic groups; and (4) the coalition then begins negotiations with the developer. The author, David Marcello, makes a number of salient points in this brief memo, and I very much recommend it to CBA coalition organizers and supporters.

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