Clark Metro annual meeting leaves many feeling left out
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2007) Clark Metro Development Corporation’s decision to hold an annual meeting and election of new board members in June, rather than waiting until July, has alienated many long-term members and supporters of the organization. Lost membership lists, failure to contact members about renewal of their membership, a membership drive that promised to pay the dues of those who signed up, and the way the board handled the scheduling of the annual meeting have all contributed to hurt feelings of stakeholders in the organization.
According to three board members who recently resigned from the Board of Trustees, the decision to move the meeting date to June 18th was made by a phone and e-mail vote, not at an actual meeting of the board as reported in the Plain Press last month.
The three former board members, Dena Czupih, George Hohlakis, and Bess Vrettos, say the board had met previously and decided on a July 16th meeting. A July 16th meeting would have allowed time for money to be collected from donors who promised to pay the $5 annual dues for those who had signed up in a membership drive. (Editor’s note: A copy of a June 12th email from Acting Executive Director John Fennelly indicates that the executive committee of the board met and, on June 12th and at the advise of their attorney, moved the meeting date back to June 18th. Fennelly’s e-mail asks that all those not in attendance at the executive committee meeting record their vote by emailing a yes or no vote for moving the meeting date.)
Bess Vrettos says the membership drive resulted from an effort by the Board of Trustees to meet with Councilman Joe Santiago to see what steps the organization could take to improve its standing with the Councilman to get commitment of funds from his Community Development Block Grant ward allocation. Vrettos, Hohlakis and Board member Eric Louttit attended the meeting with Councilman Joe Santiago.
Vrettos says a membership drive to increase the number of members was one of the ideas brought up at the meeting. When she learned, she said, that Clark Metro charged dues and that some thought the $5 dues were a barrier to increasing membership, she offered a donation of up to $500 to pay the dues of those who signed up in a membership drive. She said later Hohlakis and Councilman Santiago also offered to contribute to help pay the dues.
A May 23, 2007 letter from Attorney Vincent F. Gonzalez says “a list of membership provided at the nominations committee meeting May 16, 2007 only shows a total of 19 paid members out of a list of 157 members and no paid board members or businesses.” The letter from Gonzalez challenged the moving of the meeting date to July 16th and led to the executive committee meeting and the phone and e-mail vote to move the meeting to June 18. The data in the attorney’s letter also sheds some light on the extent of the number of people that were excluded from voting.
Czupih believes that those signed up in the membership drive should have been allowed to vote. She felt that the staff only had to tell Vrettos how many people had signed up and they would have received a check. “There is a need for people in the neighborhood for people to get together,” and that excluding those that didn’t pay prevented people from getting together.
Czupih sees the Clark Metro neighborhood and the development corporation as being caught in the middle of battle between Councilman Joe Santiago and former Councilman Nelson Cintron, Jr. She feels that bickering, charges and countercharges between supporters of each “is splitting the neighborhood up.”
Indeed politics and rumors seem to be involved in the decision to limit those who could vote. Rumors had spread that the membership drive was stacking the deck in favor of candidates supportive of Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago.
Hohlakis says there was no conspiracy, just a little competition among some board members to see who could sign up the most new members. He said 90% of those signed up at Soap Opera Laundry on W. 25th and Walton, which he owns and manages, were customers signed up by his employees. He said some people were signed up at McDonald’s Restaurant, where board president Randy Buchko works. Czupih says that Clark Metro staff person Maritza Santiago visited block club meetings with applications. Vrettos says she signed up some friends and family members by her Clark Avenue home/business. As for charges that there were people on the list from outside the neighborhood, Hohlakis said if there were names on the list that were from outside the neighborhood that people thought were not qualified to vote, they could have simply been removed prior to the meeting.
Hohlakis believes that preventing all the newly signed up members from voting, did stack the deck in favor of former Councilman Nelson Cintron, Jr. who was running for the Board of Trustees of Clark Metro Development Corporation. Hohlakis said that of the 23 paid members allowed to vote, five were family members or relatives of Nelson Cintron, Jr.
Czupih questioned why Nelson Cintron was notified and in attendance at the May 16 nominating committee meeting, when she as a board member did not know about the nominating committee meeting.
In addition to the former members of the board of trustees, others in the neighborhood have come forward with their concerns.
Rocco Oliverio, a longtime member of Clark Metro Development Corporation, said Clark Metro Development Coporation staff member Maritza Santiago told him he was not a member. He said that when he countered that he was a member, she told him she had no receipt and no list. “She said, ‘Steve Kruger (former CMDC Executive Director) had erased the list before he left.’”
Oliverio said alarm bells were ringing at this point. He asked about the status of the many people he knew that had signed up at Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago’s office as part of the CMDC membership drive. Noting a stack of such applications on Maritiza Santiago’s desk, Oliverio says he was told, “they are not members yet.”
Oliverio, who has a membership card that says he is a 2006-2007 member of Clark Metro, says of the way this year’s annual meeting and election of board members was handled, “This whole thing smells.”
Kate Dupuis, a member of the Fulton W. 44th Street Clock Club in the Clark Metro Development Corporation service area, did attend the annual meeting, but was told her name was not on the list of members who were eligible to vote.
Dupuis says, when she and other members of her block club signed up as members, they were told their dues would be paid by an anonymous donor. Dupuis said if she had received a call that her dues were not paid, she would have paid the dues herself, rather than lose the right to vote at the annual meeting.
Several people at the annual meeting, including Dupuis, asked that the meeting date be extended to allow for more people to participate. Those present who could vote decided not to move the meeting date and continued with the election of new board members.
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