Two years ago, when the donors stopped giving and the bills couldn't be paid, the board of directors for ONE/CHANE went to U.S. Bankruptcy Court and filed for liquidation.
Many thought that spelled the end of one of the city's premier neighborhood agencies. But reports of ONE/CHANE's demise may have been premature.
With bankruptcy still pending, the organization's ex-manager, Larry Charles, former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner and others are trying to resurrect the once-storied North End community group — with Milner as interim board chairman and Charles, who was fired by the board in 2004 amid allegations of mismanagement, as executive director.
They've held a meeting to elect new leaders and paid $700 to buy the agency's historical records and photographs. The reason, they say, is the neighborhood desperately needs ONE/CHANE and the services it once provided.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who characterized the situation as "extraordinary," is reviewing whether Milner and Charles can legally do what they've done. Their attempt to revive ONE/CHANE surprised community leaders who took part in the attempt to save it prior to liquidation. Steve Harris, the organization's last chairman and a former city councilman, says he and his colleagues filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to try and "kill this horse with some dignity."
"If they've resurrected it, God bless them," Harris said. "But there's nothing to resurrect."
But last month the ONE/CHANE bankruptcy trustee, Anthony Novak, gave Milner and Charles a good reason to try, by filing a $9.7 million lawsuit against the agency that runs the North Hartford landfill. The amount reflects the payout promised to the community by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority when ONE/CHANE dropped its opposition to the landfill's expansion. Novak is overseeing the liquidation of ONE/CHANE's assets to satisfy creditors such as the city, the state and mortgage-holding banks.
The authority says the trustee's claim has no merit. Charles says otherwise.
"We fought to make sure that [ONE/CHANE] never got dissolved because we are entitled to $9.7 million in the contract with the CRRA," Charles said. "To dissolve the corporation would have meant to give back those hard-earned funds."
At least two decades old, Organized North Easterners and Clay Hill and North End Inc. made its presence known in Hartford, in part, by fighting what it said were the negative health effects of the landfill. In 1992, when the trash authority sought to expand the landfill, the neighborhood mobilized and eventually filed a federal lawsuit, the trustee's suit says. Negotiations ensued that led to the authority's eventually making more than $12 million in health and safety improvements to the landfill.
In October 1999, the two sides signed a "Community Support Agreement." ONE/CHANE, satisfied that the landfill was no longer a health risk, agreed to withdraw its lawsuit and opposition of the landfill's expansion. In return, the authority would give the community $9.7 million for economic development.
Some residents cried foul, saying ONE/CHANE sold them out.
In the end, the authority didn't expand the landfill as it originally planned. Instead of increasing the landfill's footprint, it decided to build it higher. And that move, the authority says, did not trigger the $9.7 million agreement with ONE/CHANE.
Paul Nonnenmacher, the authority's spokesman, says the trustee's lawsuit has no merit and, even if it did, the money would go to a new nonprofit, not to ONE/CHANE's estate.
"There's nothing here to settle," Nonnenmacher said. The effort of Milner and Charles to regain control of the organization goes back to late 2006, when they apparently tried to buy ONE/CHANE's corporate identity from the bankrupt estate, prompting an objection from Blumenthal's office. In the end, all that was sold were the records.
Last September, Charles and what he said was a committee of dues-paying members put an ad in The Hartford Courant saying that the organization was going to have its annual meeting to elect new board members. Charles says the meeting and the process followed the organization's bylaws.
Blumenthal says he is looking into whether such a process is legal.
"We want to make sure that no one is misled into thinking that this ONE/CHANE is the same organization with the same management and board of directors that existed before," Blumenthal said.
He also said he has spoken with ONE/CHANE's bankruptcy trustee, who was to instruct Charles that the organization could neither bring in money nor incur debts while in bankruptcy.
None of that deters Charles.
"This is the spirit that's in me right now," said Charles, who is also considering a run for state representative. "It's one that looks at a community that has suffered a tremendous amount with no services provided by ONE/CHANE for 3 1/2 years, with shootings increasing to levels we have never seen before and absolutely no response from ONE/CHANE."
Harris sees a hard road in trying to revive the agency.
"ONE/CHANE has left such a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths," Harris said. "To come back, and to come back with the name ONE/CHANE, come back with the old executive director — I see a hard task in terms of trying to get funding."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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