May 10, 2017
To the Editor:
Finally, someone followed up on the concerns about the Independence Avenue CID expressed by employees, residents, stakeholders and community leaders since 2013, so this community owes a debt to Auditor Joan Pu and her staff. The only surprise I saw in the process was the failure of the committee to ask for the immediate resignation of the director and the boards of both the chamber and CID so that they could begin again with a clean slate the community can trust.
Such a plan would have allowed for an open hiring process to get an experienced director in place. The first time around the organization ignored fairness in their hiring process. Virtually none of their staff including their director were hired through an open, advertised process and I imagine there were many people in Historic Northeast who would have loved a job with a salary of over $100,000 + various benefits to oversee the cleaning of the street, planting of flowers and overseeing a security company.
Reference has been made to the audit as a “learning experience.” Give me a break! Before officially becoming a CID, the chamber staff and board were given a two or three-year grant from LISC for a pilot project to teach them how to be a CID. LISC even conducted an abbreviated audit of this pilot project to help educate them about how to operate legally and effectively. The city’s audit wasn’t a learning experience—this is pointing out blatant disregard for the law, for the community and for ethical behavior after having shortcomings pointed out to her and her board time after time.
It is important to keep in mind that this audit is merely two months of their operations. Imagine what they might have found if they had done a complete audit. They were given recommendations as far back as January of 2013 on many of the issues brought forward by this audit. We as residents entrusted our tax dollars to this group. In whose business would it ever be OK to write checks without documentation for all expenses?
In January 2016, members of the Scarritt Renaissance board met with a committee of both chamber and CID board members to express our concern for the blatant conflicts of interest we witnessed, the way this community’s money was being spent and seeking solutions to the problems they were causing our neighborhood. We asked for a follow up meeting to develop a plan and this is the response we received via email over two months later:
We have spent quite a bit of time determining how best to approach the issues that Scarritt has with the CID. We want to be supportive as much as we can in all aspects of Independence Avenue and the touch points with the Neighborhoods.
In that regard, please keep us in mind for any possible sponsorship opportunities you may have available which will help fund the good work you are performing. We have an advertising budget that may be able to assist you with programs that are consistent with the goals of the CID.
We have decided against having another meeting as we are not sure what that might accomplish. We have checked with our attorney and he has advised us that we are doing things correctly and as required by the State and the City. We verified that the board has to be represented by Independence Avenue businesses or property owners or their designees. We cannot have neighborhood reps as part of the Board…
Clearly, they didn’t grasp the seriousness of the issues we brought forth if they thought that a donation would solve everything and they need a different attorney if theirs (from the prestigious firm of Husch Blackwell) told them they were living by the letter of the law.
It is my fervent hope that this audit will be a wakeup call to the board and that they will take the necessary steps, however difficult, to get this organization back on track after at least four years of poor management. It is their legal, fiduciary responsibility to do so. There are many in this community that will be watching them closely over the next six months. They would do well to respect Historic Northeast residents moving forward.
Leslie D. Caplan