When they conduct the autopsy on ONE/CHANE, the 19-year-old north Hartford community organization closing its doors for good today, the cause of death will read: Self-Inflicted.
Neglect, poor leadership and a weak executive board under a previous regime added up over the years. There was mismanagement, nepotism, possible malfeasance and no community accountability.
In the Greater Hartford nonprofit funding community, the ONE/CHANE brand name had become akin to Enron. It conjured up all sorts of negative images, none of which was ever going to give a prospective investor confidence that money put into the agency would yield results. Like Enron, ONE/CHANE is broke - and kaput.
"The funders have lost faith in ONE/CHANE, which is something that happened some time ago before the current administration," said corporate attorney Greg Davis, one of the newer board members appointed to help reclaim the agency's reputation. "We were assembled in an attempt to demonstrate to the funding community that ONE/CHANE had taken a new direction and was trying to re-energize itself. But, ultimately, because of the past transgressions, the funders just didn't want to roll the dice."
The agency's demise comes at a time when north Hartford - one of the poorest communities in one of the richest states - has a dire need for a persistent and credible advocate. As Hartford puts out the welcome mat recruiting a more well-to-do clientele, there remain many historically disenfranchised poor residents who may soon be forgotten.
George Bahamonde, president of the United Way of the Capital Area, said community leaders should take this time to reassess the needs of North Hartford and determine what other options are available to deal with those issues.
But before any talks begin about starting a new north Hartford community organization, questions about what happened at ONE/CHANE need to be answered. Who wants to see the same old problems occur again?
Things got so dysfunctional at the organization that concerns about its financial practices reached the offices of the IRS and the state attorney general. Under the direction of former Executive Director Larry Charles, Charles' cousin worked as the agency's finance director, and one of Charles' brothers ran a ONE/CHANE affiliate in Charles' hometown of New Orleans, which apparently was news to many of the board members. Real estate rental properties owned by the agency were remortgaged to the hilt, buildings were in disrepair, and many tenants were months behind in rents.
The timing of ONE/CHANE's demise is awkward in that over the last year the board brought in a dedicated chief executive in Frederick Smith, infused the board with new members and hired a competent real estate manager to handle its neglected properties.
But the new undertakings could not overshadow the organization's bad rep. There was no new money, hence no staff - outside of Smith - and there were no programs.
The United Way hadn't conversed with the organization in months - a bad sign. An accountant held back a much-needed audit report because the agency owed him money.
ONE/CHANE had become like an aging horse that could no longer function.
Though there were some good memories, it was finally put out of its misery.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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