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North End Agency In Battle For Survival

Bitter Infighting On ONE/CHANE Board Amid State Probe Of Finances, Governance

April 17, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

ONE/CHANE is being investigated by the state, it's so broke that it had to lay off a staff member and lock its doors, and some board members are trying to get rid of its chairman and executive director.

Once the premier community organization in Hartford's North End, ONE/CHANE is in the throes of a politically charged battle for survival.

Board member David Hendricks says that he and his allies have been "shut out" of important financial and organizational decisions and therefore new leadership is needed. Hendricks says that he has spearheaded the effort to remove Terry Waller, a Hartford Fire Department captain, as chairman, and Frederick E. Smith as executive director. Smith was just hired in January.

On the other hand, Waller - who says he is still chairman - contends that his efforts to salvage ONE/CHANE and turn it around are being torpedoed by a few board members acting in their own interests.

It's clear that the community agency is in trouble, community leaders say.

"It must be breaking Lucy Summers' heart to see what's going on," said Andrea Comer, head of the Greater Hartford African American Alliance. Summers, who died in 1995, and Mayor Eddie A. Perez were among the organization's founders a quarter-century ago. "And I think it would make her very sad to know there is such dissension."

At least two board members say that the current dispute is about control of the board, and the status that a seat on ONE/CHANE's board brings in the black community - status that some might be unwilling to lose.

"In the black community, sitting on ONE/CHANE's board is a status symbol," board secretary Sheri Frazier said. "You're trying to make sure that this community utilizes the funding it gets and that we, everyone living within the Clay-Arsenal community, gets a piece of it."

All the while, the group is waiting to hear whether it will get more than $1 million in state funding to help keep it alive, officials said.

"This is the neediest community," Waller said. "But if we can't get our house in order, they're not going to [give us money], and I don't blame them."

On Tuesday, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that his office was investigating "evidence of financial and governance irregularities at ONE/CHANE." On Wednesday, some on the board - through an attorney they say is the board's counsel - contacted the newspaper to say that there was more at play than Blumenthal's investigation.

"The mutiny ... was by Mr. Waller and Mr. Fred Smith," said Hendricks, who called himself the board's spokesman. "They're the ones that have taken over the organization. When you're doing things without board consent and without board approval, that's what I call taking over."

So, on March 13, seven members of the board voted to remove Waller, Hendricks said. The vote didn't happen at a meeting, but rather by resolution in what the bylaws call an "action without a meeting."

On Friday, Hendricks circulated a resolution to the board that, among other things, called for Smith to be fired, he said. The results of that vote were not clear late last week.

But Waller says that Hendricks and his allies are acting contrary to the organization's bylaws and to the organization's best interest.

"They tried to pull a coup, and you can't do that," Waller said, calling Hendricks a "disgruntled board member."

"I'm definitely still chairman," Waller said.

"If they wanted me out, that's perfectly in order, but they should have done it on May 5," Waller said, referring to the organization's impending annual meeting - one that Hendricks says might not happen.

"They're attacking [Smith] because he's professional and he's not buying into all the drama and the nonsense," Waller said. "It's all about the former executive director [Larry Charles] saying that the word on the street is that if he couldn't run the organization, no one would run it. They would run it into the ground and destroy it."

"The community understands exactly what's going on, and the community is prepared to tackle these issues," Waller said.

In an interview, Charles, whom the board fired a year ago because of frustrations with his leadership style, disputed Waller's comment. He hasn't been involved in the organization or its politics since he was dismissed, he said.

"I'm just so disappointed that things are happening in a way that appears to be destructive both to the image of ONE/CHANE and its ability to provide services to the community," Charles said.

Frazier questioned whether the actions that Hendricks says have been taken were done so in accordance with the group's bylaws.

But, leaving the technicalities aside, Frazier said she believes that this episode is all about a fight for control of the board, a fight for status. Those trying to unseat Waller and Smith are doing so out of fear that they might lose their own seats on the board, she said.

"They're concerned with new board members joining the organization ... and right now, that's what we need - some movers and some shakers, some people who can bring funders to the table," she said.

Frazier said that the organization is now in a transitional period and is taking some positive steps. "Sometimes a group has to lose people in order to move forward," she said.

Board member Joseph Harrington said that Hendricks and his allies are out of line.

"I know Hendricks' position, and I couldn't disagree with him more," Harrington said, adding that what might be happening is that some on the board are resisting change. "When more progressive types come along, they tend to want to isolate them."

The board has a special meeting scheduled Monday at 7 p.m.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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