The Art Alliance of Idyllwild Board of Directors held the first of its public sessions at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 7, but only the press and a few members attended. The open forum, slated to follow its monthly board meeting, is intended to give AAI members, the community and press an informal opportunity to ask questions of the board.

The public sessions were designed as public relations outreach following a contentious general membership meeting in January in which questions regarding board management and practices were raised by a vocal group of members and volunteers.

By providing these public sessions, AAI President Marc Kassouf said he hoped to give members opportunities to raise questions about AAI event plans, financials and board management, and clear any remaining issues from the January meeting so the board and the organization could get on with its business of producing events and serving member artists.

The idea for the forum, given the reason for its genesis, seemed sound. However, other than press and several AAI members, no members or volunteers who confronted the board in January attended.

In January, issues that seemed pressing and divisive to a number of members and volunteers were: whether board members were responsibly exercising their required statutory “duty of care” in serving on the board; whether financial records were readily available to members; whether those records were accurate, consistent and in compliance with governing law; and whether an audit would be untaken to address questions surrounding recordkeeping and transparency.

The tension between some AAI members and the newly seated board developed over stated difficulties in obtaining financial records from the board and Treasurer Reba Coulter relating to projects Shanna Robb was running. Dave Robb cited discrepancies in accounting methods and available documentation as needing explanation from the board. Both the Robbs and other AAI members who supported their positions at the January meeting questioned what to them seemed pushback from the board and Coulter regarding requested documents and overall board-to-member transparency.

At last Saturday’s public session, Kassouf and Coulter answered press questions that came from the January meeting. When asked if the board had accepted an offer from Byron Ely to provide a free audit, Kassouf said the board was in contact with Ely and had sought clarification on specifically what services would be donated. “If it were an arms-length full audit from an individual or firm experienced with audits for nonprofits, we have agreed we would accept that,” said Kassouf. Regarding whether the board had prepared a budget for the coming year, Kassouf said they are working on it.

Regarding revision of bylaws, he noted the board is planning a retreat at which to finalize the budget, review and revise bylaws, and begin long-term strategic planning — including the mechanism and timing for student scholarships. “We’ll have dedicated bank accounts for the scholarship fund, as well as for operating and capital reserves,” said Kassouf. After a comment by Kassouf that AAI members are legally only entitled to the 990 tax return, press raised the question again whether members could receive other AAI financial documents if asked for. This was the central contentious issue raised by Shanna — that she was unable to get requested documents she said she needed to run projects for the organization. No board reply has been received as of press time.

Lastly, Kassouf commented on the Facebook post Lesly Martin, the board’s media spokesperson, authored publicly calling Robb a “b----.” Press questioned how, after a board member or anyone acting under color of authority posted a comment of that nature, they would continue in office given the potential for reflecting badly on the organization. “It was grossly inappropriate,” said Kassouf, but explained that at the time, the board felt under attack from Shanna and her supporters, and all of them were under duress, which he posited might have explained Martin’s post.

At the January meeting, Shanna had reminded the board of their duty of care as defined in the California Attorney General’s Guide for Charities, including having in place organizational checks and balances, separation of duties, preparation of yearly and event budgets, defining term limits so as to benefit the ongoing health of the organization, staggering terms of directors, providing members financial transparency, sales tracking procedures, cash-receipt handling procedures, a minimum of dual signatures on organization checks and periodic financial reviews throughout the year by a third-party accountant or completion of audits on a prescribed basis.

“AAI has now formed an Events Committee composed of both AAI board members and volunteers,” wrote Kassouf.” We understand that there is some financial information that needs to be provided to event organizers so that they know where the budget for a previous event was spent in order to determine the effectiveness of past efforts and in order to determine if desired results can be reached based on past budget allocations. Rather than relying on any one key volunteer, we now have on our board and amongst our volunteers, marketing professionals and experienced event organizers who can better advise us on the most effective ways to allocate our limited budgets to obtain the results we are seeking.”