Patrick Barry, Art Alliance of Idyllwild member and volunteer, with extensive experience with other off-Hill nonprofits, cited communication difficulties with and lack of response from the current board as one of the major hurdles facing AAI members.
Barry said he sent an email request to the board on Jan. 13, 10 days before the general meeting, asking to have certain items put on the agenda for member discussion with the board. He received no response.
He then proceeded at the Jan. 23 meeting to read what he had requested be placed before the membership. Initially, President Marc Kassouf interrupted him a number of times reminding him that questions from members would be answered only at the end of the meeting. Barry nevertheless continued over the interruptions from the chair.
Barry had wanted the board and membership to discuss bylaw review (specifically election of board members and board members’ terms of office), receipts to members for donation of time and materials to AAI that members can use for tax returns, and an independent outside audit to increase financial accountability and transparency to AAI members. Barry noted the request, aside from being a good business practice, was prompted by a failure in 2013 to file a sales tax return, occasioning a $591 penalty to the organization.
“Everybody sitting in that room wants the organization to succeed,” said Barry in subsequent interview. “But it seemed apparent from the beginning that Marc didn’t want any feedback.” A number of people at the meeting complained, in addition to Barry, about the board’s failure to respond in a timely fashion to members’ requests for information.
Kassouf, in a telephone call with the Town Crier on Tuesday, said that all decisions of the board are made by the board and communication can only come with agreement of the full board. The Town Crier requested response from Kassouf (copied also to Nathan Depetris and Lesly Martin) on a number of things, including a copy of the PowerPoint presentation (to accurately recount the accomplishments, projects and membership growth over the last year), a copy of Shanna Robb’s resignation letter, how many signatures are currently required on AAI checks, and how the board planned to respond to a board member’s public posting on Facebook of a potentially defamatory comment about a prominent volunteer.
Kassouf said he personally would not comment at this time on any of these requests or issues. “We are working on a letter to the general membership addressing some of the issues raised at the meeting,” he said. “We hope to have that out by Friday. After that, we will look at [the Town Crier request for 10 items] as a board and get back to you.” When asked when that would be, he said he wasn’t sure since this would have to be a board decision.
Byron Ely, who also spoke at the Jan. 23 meeting, offered a free audit that could be conducted by certified members of a nonprofit, National Core, with which he is affiliated. “I thought if it were just financial constraints that prevented from commissioning an audit, that this offer would be a way to take out the mystery [about AAI financials] and provide healing,” he said in subsequent interview. “I have been consistently impressed by the events run by the organization and the sophistication of those events.” Asked if he had been contacted by the board with regard to his audit offer, Ely said he had not.
Kassouf said much of this attention this last week had been diverted to law enforcement’s investigation of the vandalism of one of the AAI “Deer Sightings” sculptures (see page 1).
We will report next week on the letter to the membership and board response to the specific Town Crier requests. We will also, from the PowerPoint presentation, highlight what the board presented to the membership as 2014 accomplishments, membership growth, current financial state of the organization, and new AAI initiatives for 2015.
Chris Trout, one of the founders of AAI, said of the Jan. 23 meeting and current state of the organization, “As one of the founders of AAI, I feel that the original vision and mission statement, currently on the website, were well thought out 17 years ago as appropriate for Idyllwild, and that, as a membership based organization, AAI has been well-served by these guiding principles.”