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Neighborhood board to debate leader's fate

Support for a CVS drugstore might cost Steve Lange the presidency of the North Shore Neighborhood Association.

By ANDREW MEACHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Board members of the North Shore Neighborhood Association have scheduled a special meeting for Monday after a membership vote that called for the resignation of president Steve Lange.

This is the latest clash over a planned CVS drugstore at 845 Fourth St. N, now the site of Watson's Foodtown. Lange, who has been association president for less than a month, favors the development that his constituents turned out in force at a recent City Council meeting to oppose.

Lange's advocacy of the project has prompted more than 200 e-mail postings on the association's Web site since June 1, many of them anonymous, virtually all of them critical. The animosity comes in spite of acknowledgments by critics that Lange has worked tirelessly for the neighborhood for years, chairing numerous committees and spearheading beautification efforts.

The pot boiled over June 19, when members voted 31-9 to recommend that the board ask Lange to resign. Some passed out 11-by-17 blow-ups of a postcard that Lange had sent to Council, urging approval of CVS' zoning request. Lange also spoke on behalf of the project at the marathon council meeting, stating he was present as an individual -- not as the association's president.

That qualification failed to appease the majority of voters. Moreover, members expressed disappointment that the meeting degenerated, at times, into a shouting match, prompting several to walk out.

"I was totally embarrassed by the behavior of the president," said Cynthia Serra, an incoming board member and owner of Que Serra Services. Speaking as a rank-and-file member of the association, Serra said Lange had used poor judgment and no longer represents the best interests of the neighborhood.

Lange said he has no intention of resigning and is confident that the board will support him, as it did at an earlier meeting in June.

Two board members, including former president Joyce Frey, resigned at the beginning of June. As attention shifted from the CVS development to Lange himself, the editor of the association newsletter also resigned.

At the June 19 meeting, attorney Jim Martin had just finished reporting that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had matched the neighborhood's pledge of $2,500 in emergency funds. The money will go toward hiring an architect for help in negotiating sessions with CVS representatives -- leverage the neighbors won in an otherwise unsuccessful effort to stop the drugstore.

That's when Gemma O'Donnell, 68, stood and read aloud the postcard Lange had sent to City Council members.

After urging approval for the CVS development, Lange wrote, "North Shore cannot keep everyone out they don't like. The people affected should not have bought 50-150 (feet) from Fourth Street -- what do they expect to happen here?"

With those words hanging in the air, O'Donnell moved to strip Lange of his association membership, which automatically would disqualify Lange as president.

What followed were accusations -- sometimes shouted -- mixed with questions about the association's bylaws and procedures for removing a president. Critics said that Lange refused to allow O'Donnell and others permission to speak and, when they tried to speak, he told them to sit down and be quiet.

"People were getting really annoyed by that," said Mike Dailey, an information technology manager and association member. "I think part of the reason the membership voted the way it did was because of the way that meeting was run."

Martin told the members that boards of non-profit corporations can dismiss presidents with or without cause. He then amended O'Donnell's motion, recommending that the board ask Lange to resign. That motion passed and was signed by seven board members. Thomas Hennessy, a retired contractor who backs Lange, declined to sign off on the motion.

Board member Lane Lastinger, an attorney and past president, said that nothing in North Shore's bylaws prohibits a president from advocating a position contrary to that of the membership. Lange's critics say that may be true, but giving the association president the freedom to advocate any position doesn't go far enough to protect members.

Lange's past accomplishments may even be working against him. "The City Council values his opinion," Serra said. "They think, "This is coming from Steve Lange, so it must be a good thing.' "

The special board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 126 11th Ave. NE.

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