UPDATE (May 31, 2014, 6:13 p.m.): Last-minute promises of transparency and accountability proved too late for the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. Just hours after its board met in a closed-door session at the center on Saturday, a separate group of community leaders previously asking for their resignations have announced they will form a new organization to “provide a better option for the community.” Read more on the latest update.
THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A group of at least six community members said Friday they are planning on asking the current LGBT Community Center of Charlotte Board of Trustees to step down and hand over control of the organization to a temporary board.
The community members’ request comes after months of doubts and questions over the center’s financial stability, transparency and board accountability. And, now the center faces its most crucial financial and accountability hardship yet. With just $650 in the center’s checking account, shocking new allegations — backed up by financial documents obtained by qnotes — show the center also owes at least $7,000 in outstanding payroll taxes to the federal and state governments, along with back pay to its sole employee.
Additionally, center Chair Roberta Dunn told board members on Thursday that she intended to soon resign from the board, confirmed by board member Ranzeno Frazier this afternoon.
Full board resignation requested
Led by Edward McCray, who works as the McColl Center for Visual Arts’s special events and donor relations manager, the six community members said they are willing to take over the reins of the center’s board and will host an emergency community meeting at the center, 2508 N. Davidson St. on Sunday, June 1 at 4 p.m., where they will ask the current board to resign. McCray and the potential, temporary board members said they expect to have a fuller slate of qualified candidates assembled before the meeting.
McCray, who has volunteered to chair the potential temporary board, said he could not stand by when he learned of several previously unpublicized problems at the center.
“After I heard about what’s going on there, I felt like the board itself should be doing a lot more for the community. For the center, there’s no excuse for the activities going on around there,” McCray said. “I feel like that, from my experience in non-profits, we could easily turn this around and make this something positive.”
McCray, is joined in airing his concerns by longtime center volunteer and PRISM young adult program coordinator Mel Hartsell.
Hartsell has stepped forward as a potential, temporary board member, along with McCray and several others, including accounting professional and entrepreneur Joyce Saint-Cyr, caterer Nattiel Turner, marketing professional Colleen Lloyd-Roberts and Humane Society staffer Bennett Simonsen.
[Ed. Note — This newspaper’s publisher, Jim Yarbrough, has been engaged for several weeks in conversations with the current center board of trustees. This writer was not made privy to the contents of those discussions. Yarbrough has also been asked to join or assist the new, temporary center board.]
“I really truly believe that the center can be saved. It is important,” Hartsell said, explaining a new board will be “truly listening and hearing the community’s concerns and doing something with those, being completely transparent and making sure that we are rebuilding the trust of the community and rebuilding some of those relationships.”
Hartsell said it is time for change and that only new leadership can restore trust. The potential new board, Hartsell said, also believed it was important to address these most recent concerns publicly and transparently.
“People need to be aware of the process and why we’ve decided to do this,” Hartsell said. “They need to know that people from the center have been listening to them — maybe not the current board, but people have been hearing them and we are going to act on their suggestions and their concerns.”
Hartsell added, “I don’t believe the board is the center anymore or that it represents the center. We are defending the center, but not the board.”
The center’s sole employee, Operations Director Glenn Griffin, also shared his concerns on Friday and has been involved in conversations to find new board members to replace the current leadership.
“I felt staying silent and not doing anything was hurting the center and felt like it was time to make a move,” Griffin said. “It was hard to do that. I have a loyalty to the center and the board as people. I feel they are good individuals. I just think they are misguided. Things that have been done haven’t been done maliciously. There just had to be a change.”
McCray said transparency and accountability will be front and center if the potential temporary board is installed on Sunday. He said members of the public and donors need to “know that the funds they are giving us are going to something to further the community, that anything we promise and say we want to do that they are going to see a return on that and that funds are being appropriately used for that project.”
“I feel like donors, they just want to feel that if they are going to invest, they want to see if their investment is making an impact,” McCray added. “If they don’t see it, they are a lot more reluctant to give.”
Current center board members Crystal Long and Ranzeno Frazier declined to confirm whether they would attend the emergency community meeting called for Sunday, saying they had not been directly invited to attend.
Other current center board members — Chair Roberta Dunn, Vice Chair Bert Woodard, Chris Gray, Jenny Richeson, Judson Gee — did not return phone calls or email messages before press time.
Back pay, missing payroll taxes
Griffin said center leaders have not been keeping up on payroll. The board, he said, failed to provide two paychecks in April and May. A third scheduled paycheck scheduled for the end of this month is unlikely, given the center’s dwindling cash reserves.
Additionally, Griffin said he has been paying out of his own personal funds for center supplies such as copy paper. He’s also personally paid for snacks and refreshments for PRISM, the center’s young adults group, despite the center having received a grant from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund to pay for such expenses.
The outstanding payroll taxes, Griffin said, date back nearly a year. Payroll taxes — including Social Security payments, Medicare payments, unemployment insurance and state and federal income taxes — allegedly stopped being paid after former treasurer Rob Marcy left the board last May.
Griffin became aware of the problems in November. After Marcy’s departure, Griffin was asked to temporarily perform Marcy’s treasurer duties. In November, when attempting to reconcile the center’s accounting and bank statements, Griffin said he discovered no payments had ever been made to federal or state governments. He said he informed Dunn and other board members.
“It just didn’t seem to be a huge issue. I know it bothered Roberta somewhat. She couldn’t believe Rob hadn’t set it up to do it,” Griffin said. “Yet, it’s May of the next year and yet nothing has been done to rectify the situation and I have brought it up numerous times.”
Frazier and Long were the only two board members to return phone calls or emails today. Frazier said he only recently became aware Griffin was not being paid in a timely manner.
“As far as the taxes, from what I know Roberta Dunn has been trying to get that together, as well,” Frazier said.
Long said she was unaware of the outstanding taxes. “I’m not aware of any of that,” she said.
Asked if she reviewed financial documents presented to board members, she responded affirmatively.
“I get the same information that you received,” Long responded. “When we have our meetings we all get financial reports.”
This writer also asked Long if she reviewed those financial reports and, if so, how she could be unaware of the outstanding taxes.
“I am not answering any questions I don’t have any facts about,” she said. “I have no knowledge of what is due. I only know that they pay the rent. I know that everything was fine according to the executive board. I’m not on the executive board. I’m a board of trustee [member]. I have nothing to do with those additional things.”
The center’s so-called “executive board” is comprised of officers, such as the chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer.
A troubled history
The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte has come under consistent scrutiny for its lack of transparency, board accountability and financial challenges.
Questions about the center’s financial stability and leadership decisions stretch back to at least 2006, when staff was found to have been siphoning money out of a reserve account used by Pride Charlotte. The money, as reported at the time, was used to pay the center’s utilities, staff salaries and rent. Discovery of the misappropriated funds resulted in the disclosure of the center’s $40,000 debt. Several organizations and individuals stepped up to assist with the center’s debt, including $20,000 from Southern Country Charlotte, $18,000 from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund and $10,000 from a private donor.
Last fall, this writer addressed several questions and concerns regarding the center’s finances and transparency on his personal blog. The commentaries resulted in a December town hall meeting at the center, attended by nearly 100 community members.
As in 2006, the center continued to struggle paying basic operating expenses like rent, utilities and salaries. The organization has spent an average of 50 percent of all its income over the past decade on occupancy expenses alone. It’s current rent is $3,500 per month.
In January, Dunn announced the center had just $6,000 cash on hand — with approximately $7,000 in expenses each month — and would face closure at the end of February if more funds were not raised. A second town hall meeting and a fundraiser to keep the center open were held in February.
Despite board members’ efforts to keep the center running smoothly, its struggles were still easily apparent this month. The board was barely able to muster quorum for its May board meeting, after failing to gain quorum at all in March, just three weeks after their threatened closure. At the meeting last week, center leaders were presented a proposal to request cash assistance from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners — a proposition quickly determined questionable considering the county’s stringent audit and other requirements for grant recipients.