NENA Falls into Covid Crisis

This is one account of how we got into this recall situation, reported as objectively as we could. Please report specific factual errors to for prompt review and correction, as needed. For the longer version, you can click into 10 or 12 hours of meeting video links at the bottom. See also the Detailed History of Block 75, Franklin House, TRICA, and Election/Board issues.

UPDATE 3/18: NO factual errors or change requests have been received since it was first posted over a month ago.

How A Promising Year Got Locked Down

NENA’s 2020 looked promising.  January’s meeting kicked off bylaws updates, website rebuilding, and a new approach for better collaboration and increased transparency.  Then February’s lockdown forced their work into Zoom video calls.  After that, NENA’s volunteer website steward was the only non-board member to attend any of the next five (open, posted, public) board meetings.  

In those sessions, the board worked on FINE grants, Streets issues, Street Fair planning and recovery, Garden Walk, Booth Home redevelopment, some smaller issues, and launching the NENA Aid Program.  The latter ultimately delivered more than $40,000 to community organizations providing essential Covid-crisis response services.   Since then, the organization has collapsed into conflict and crisis. Here’s how it went down…

Long Hot (Distanced) Summer

In June, still meeting on Zoom, the board worked on responding to the BVA tower proposed for East Downtown, increasing support for Neighborhood Watch block organizations, more FINE grants, rallying city enforcement in cases of illegal demolitions of contributing structures, preparing the North End Neighborhood Plan for public review, and reconvening NENA’s Block 75 sub-committee.

In July, NENA’s long-time support for TRICA* was called into question, in the context of TRICA’s conditional use permit (CUP) request.  NENA initially supported the CUP.  Neighbors on 14th street requested – and got – large blocks of time, at two board meetings, to address their concerns.  The conversations were at times heated, some observers suggested more so than if they’d been held face-to-face.  NENA changed its position to neutral.  Planning and Zoning voted to approve the CUP, with annual audits required. That decision is being appealed, personally, by one or more of the new sitting board members.

Meanwhile, Mark Baltes (then NENA president) had written a letter expressing his individual support for the Franklin House beer garden. Neighbors voiced strong opposition at the August NENA meeting.  Friends of Franklin House petitioned for a special meeting and presented their side of the story.  NENA wrote its own letter supporting the R3 zoning classification.  Planning and zoning unanimously denied Franklin’s request. City Council recently approved it on appeal, calling it a very difficult decision.  Council drew a careful distinction between the messiness of how the business was developed and the appropriateness/value of having businesses like this in that area.  

In this heat, bylaws updating work wasn’t possible, but the website was completely recast a second time, with an emphasis on increasing member visibility and invitation into all of NENA’s activities.  

Board Vacancies and Voting Design

Several board seats had turned over since last year’s election and been filled directly by the board, as allowed in the bylaws. In July(?), Courtney Brumbach resigned her board position to focus on other interests.  The board had some conversation with one or two potential replacements, but decided to defer filling that vacancy, in order to give members a greater voice in choosing.  

In September, the monthly meeting was held in Elm Grove Park, was well-attended, but large group restrictions and darkness made it clear that October’s annual meeting and election, would need to be on Zoom.  No specific voting rules are prescribed, but some important restrictions, are included in NENA’s bylaws. So the board designed a brand new online registration and voting process, in consultation with legal counsel. 

The process was agreed and finalized only days before the election was to happen.  Lots of insistent calls for “complete details” had to be balanced against the need to prevent anyone from gaming the system. As the tone of incoming emails grew increasingly pointed, two board members chose not to run for re-election.

The October Election Surprise

The annual meeting was held on Zoom video, with about 110 participants.  Six seats were up for retention/election.  The election process had three parts: member registration, a yes-no vote (like judges) on retaining the three remaining incumbent board members, and then an open, “horserace” vote to fill all empty seats.  Registration and voting were done in Google forms.  All participants were asked to display their full name and turn on their video, as proxy votes are specifically not allowed by the bylaws.   

In a surprise announcement, before the retention vote, incumbent Tory Spengler criticized the board’s election design, resigned “effective immediately,” and withdrew from the already agreed process for retaining incumbent board members – unilaterally changing the board’s agreed process.  The remaining incumbents were not retained.  Tory then entered herself as a candidate in the “horserace” ballot, with six seats now open, taking a second chance to speak (twice as much as any other candidate). 

Initial tallies were announced at the close of the meeting, with the clear explanation that the results would not be final until everything was audited and certified by the Board.  Tory Spengler, Sarah Foregger, Daniel Foregger, Carlos Coto, Sitka Koloski, and Chrystal Allen unofficial winners.  But later that evening, Tory Spengler (having resigned), accidentally received confidential preliminary audit notes, emailed to the board for review. She then released those notes to other non-board members. Soon these notes were being referenced publicly as the basis for misleading stories about the results and the process. 

Certification of Election Results

The day after the election, two different campaign flyers were discovered.  Both had been distributed in a focused area of the neighborhood, before the election, and falsely accused incumbent board members of wrongdoing.  Curiously, Tory Spengler was listed with a slate of non-incumbent challengers (including Foregger, Foregger and Coto).  None of them has explained their connection to these flyers and none has denounced or apologized for its defamatory deception.  

The board began their review, a flurry of emails and threats of litigation (pressuring for faster action) only made the certification work harder and slower. This was then cast as foot-dragging and manipulation.  At the same time, supportive emails and more than 200 members signed onto a petition to ask the board to investigate fully before certifying.  This petition was presented at the regular November meeting.  A special meeting was started in December, but paused when Zoom capacity issues became a limit to participation.  It continued in January.  

In the meantime, the petitioners had agreed to pro bono professional mediation.  The challengers (ex-Allen) scuttled that mediation with threats of a lawsuit.  They did file a lawsuit against NENA and individual board members in early January, just before the continuation of the special meeting on the petition.  At that meeting the incumbent board answered all manner of questions from petitioners.  The challengers declined to attend or answer, citing their pending lawsuit as the reason.  Even so, the election results were certified at the special meeting on January 10th, the winners having received between 31 and 40 votes each. 

The Non-Ending

At that same meeting, the challengers voted to retain Chris Wagener as board president, even as they continued to press their lawsuit against him and others.  He’s since resigned, along with three other board members, and the newsletter editor.  The website steward has stepped back, now available only for posting essential announcements like the links to Zoom meetings.  

As of mid-February, the lawsuit has not been dropped.  NENA representatives have been conspicuous no-shows at recent public hearings.  Following Wagener’s resignation, vice president Sarah Foregger has become acting president. So she and her brother now hold what some have called the two most important NENA positions.  

A second petition, calling for the recall of Spengler, Foregger, Foregger, Coto and Koloski has been signed by 134 fully verified members.  The petitioner group has requested, per their rights, but not received an updated member list from the new board.  A new, Coeur d’Alene-based lawyer has reportedly been hired to help dismiss this new petition.  At the same time, the board is reportedly considering hiring a new mediator, for $4800.  There have been references to NENA board meetings, but no public notices, no agendas, or minutes have been provided to petitioners.   

Here is how this was reported on NENA’s homepage, in short updates added October through February.

Here are the Zoom recordings for the meetings described:
October Zoom Video | November Zoom Video | December Zoom Video
January (1/10 Special Meeting) Zoom Video | January (Regular Meeting) Zoom Video

*TRICA is a children’s dance program that’s is almost finished restoring an historic church, at 14th and Eastman, after the building had fallen into use as a meth house. They’ve invested millions of dollars in the project, with thousands of local supporters, including NENA, having contributed over many years.