THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.
Originally published: May 31, 2014, 4:21 p.m.
Updated: May 31, 2014, 5:57 p.m.
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UPDATE (June 2, 2014, 7:19 a.m.): Community members and the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte Board of Trustees met on Sunday afternoon. With discussion often contentious, it was agreed that the center board and a group of eight community members who had been pushing the board to resign — and who had announced the creation of a new organization — would hold further conversations. An update on the meeting is forthcoming.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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,” they say, following shocking revelations on Friday about the center’s financial stability and tax liabilities.
The Charlotte center has been under consistent scrutiny for months, with community members calling for more transparency, board accountability and engagement as the center continues to struggle financially. On Friday, it was revealed the center had just about $650 cash on hand, had failed to pay their sole employee on time and owe at least $7,000 in outstanding payroll taxes to the state and federal governments.
‘A better option’
Eight community members and leaders made the announcement to move forward with a new community organization on Saturday afternoon. Some in the group had been asking for current center board members’ resignations and volunteered to become temporary board members in their places.
They have now chosen a different approach, saying potential legal ramifications from the center’s tax delinquencies are insurmountable.
“In light of the breaking news and information that has been reviewed over the past twenty-four hours,” the statement reads, “we have decided that the best course of action is to separate from the current organization and create new articles of incorporation along with application for the 501(c)3 status under the newly formed organization. This decision is due to the legal ramifications that are attached with the current organization.”
The statement continues, “Assuming roles in the existing organization could possibly place any and all leadership at risk for being liable for the debt and legal issues. Taking this under careful advisement, we determine that leaving the current board to close out their debt and give account for the mishandling of the Center and its business is best as we seek to provide a better option for the community.”
The group is led by Edward McCray, director of events and donor relations at the McColl Center for Vision Arts. He had volunteered to serve as the center’s temporary board chair. Others in the group include: Joshua Burford, assistant director for sexual & gender diversity at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Multicultural Resource Center; Joyce Saint-Cyr, an accounting and financial services professional and business coach; longtime center volunteer and PRISM young adult program coordinator Mel Hartsell, a social worker and clinical coordinator; Nate Turner, executive chef and owner at Your Custom Catering & Events, LLC; marketing professional Colleen Lloyd-Roberts, owner of BrandGarden; Bennett Simonsen, who works as the Pets for Life Coordinator, Humane Society; and Jim Yarbrough, owner and publisher of qnotes and the owner of White Rabbit.
[Ed. Note — This newspaper’s publisher, Jim Yarbrough, has been engaged for several months in conversations with the current center board of trustees. Yarbrough was previously asked to assist or join a temporary center board. This writer was not made privy to the contents of Yarbrough’s discussions. Additionally, this writer and Yarbrough have neither discussed nor coordinated together the content of news writings on this issue prior to their publication.]
The group still intends to attend an emergency community meeting scheduled for Sunday, June 1, 4 p.m., at the center, 2508 N. Davidson St. There, they will ask the center board to transfer the center’s facility lease and programs to the new organization as it forms. The meeting is public and open to the community.
The current center board, they said, has lost the confidence of the community.
“The current board, with these new allegations will not be able to gain donors and will surely close without the support of the community,” the statement reads. “The gravity of the recent findings along with the defense of ‘not knowing’ is inexcusable and the current board’s decision to allow Roberta Dunn to remain a voting member is yet again a sign of their inability to lead the Center.”
The statement also chastises the center board for their inaction, finding a way to fully pay their sole employee and address their payroll tax delinquencies only after the problems were reported by qnotes.
“If those that came forward had not done so, would the Center Board have made the changes and even attempted to correct these issues?,” the statement asks.
Center board not ready to give up
According to new board Chair Ranzeno Frazier, who spoke to qnotes at the center after the board’s meeting today, the center board is committed to staying in place and serving the community, despite calls on Friday for the entire board to resign and be replaced by a temporary slate of leaders.
Frazier said the community can be confident the organization can raise the necessary funds to continue operating. An anonymous donor, he said, stepped forward to pay Operations Director Glenn Griffin’s back pay. Two fundraisers are slated for late June, when Frazier hopes to attract more community participation and donations.
“Ultimately its up to the community to make sure we are alive,” Frazier said. “We’re just the board. We’re here to just oversee and to make sure everything is going well. And with the new leadership role that I have taken, that is my job and I’m going to make sure that I carry that out effectively.”
Frazier was elected chair of the board on Friday, following former Chair Roberta Dunn’s resignation the same day. She remains on the board, however, despite her possible culpability in the center’s tax delinquencies.
Asked how the board could justify keeping the former chair on the board, Frazier defended Dunn and said the tax delinquencies were misunderstandings.
“It was a lot of miscommunication,” Frazier said. “We are behind in the taxes, but it’s not due to Roberta. It’s actually some information that was misleading to her — a lot of things that were not told to her and a lot of things that were told to her and a lot of things we are just finding out about. So, we’re just taking it one day at a time.”
Asked if center board members regularly review the organization’s balance sheets or checking account statements, Frazier responded, “Yes we do. We were told that some things were automatically coming out and apparently they were not.”
Then asked if board members ever noticed the missing debits from banking statements or other documents, Frazier responded, “I know for me, being a new board member at the time [and] looking at the reports, I would just assume that Roberta had everything under control as chair.”
According to Griffin, who spoke about his missing pay and the payroll taxes on Friday, Dunn and other board members were made aware of the delinquent tax issues in November.
After former treasurer Rob Marcy’s departure last May, Griffin said he 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 on Friday. “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 said the center board will be more open, transparent and committed to addressing the organization’s challenges.
“As of now we are all under scope with everything that’s going on with the center and we are going to be transparent with the community and with each other about what’s going on,” he said.
He also said they have already spoken to a tax consultant and will be working to resolve the delinquent tax payments.
“We are taking this seriously. This is a serious matter. This is something that we are not playing with,” Frazier said. “We are taking into consideration everything that has happened. I’m not going to say it’s not our fault, because we should have paid more attention. We can take ownership of that as a board and I’m not saying we’re not. We are having somebody look into it. It’s not like a pressure point, I guess you can say. As long as we contact the IRS and let them know that we did have back payments and we are working towards getting them paid off and fixed, we’re okay.”
You can listen to audio of Frazier’s remarks below:[audio:http://goqnotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/20140531-RanzenoFrazier-LGBTCenter.mp3]
Five of the seven current board members have committed to being present at the Sunday meeting. Two board members have pre-existing conflicts, Frazier said.
Frazier had no comment on calls for him and other board members to resign.