For the first time since news broke in January that Gerber/Hart Library and Archives was moving, the LGBT organization's president has gone on-record for a real-time interview. Brad Tucker replaced former President Karen Sendziak mid-term in late May, after a tumultuous few months. Sendziak, remains on the board as treasurer.
In recent months, some accused Sendziak of making the organization inaccessible to its members and larger community, an accusation that grew louder when the board introduced a new set of bylaws that removed members' voting rights.
Windy City Times caught up with Tucker who talked at length about those recent controversies, his new goals as president and a possible re-opening date for the library. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: So, when were you elected to serve as president?
Brad Tucker: At the board meeting, which I believe was May 30, but I could be completely wrong on that.
WCT: Why are you assuming the role of president in the middle of Karen Sendziak's term?
Brad Tucker: It's time for a change of management at Gerber/Hart, a change of leadership. I looked at the situation and thought that I could make a difference for the organization. I've been active in it for over 10 years. I was a former president. I have taken it through their move from Paulina Street to Granville. So, hopefully I have something to contribute.
WCT: You have written online that Gerber/Hart had to move. Why was that?
Brad Tucker: Let me tell you from the get-go that I've got one side of the story only, and I may not have all the facts.
When Gerber/Hart moved to the Granville library, we knew there were issues with the weight load on the floor. We had the landlord completely indemnify us for any responsibility for any damage to the floors… The landlord was willing to deal with it… and that was two landlords ago. The way I understand it, during the renewal conversations or the conversations about renewing the lease on Granville, was at first the landlord, Rae Anne [Cecrle), came back with a three-year extension. The library was seriously considering buying a building. They weren't really thrilled; they weren't really interested in signing a three-year lease.
So Rae Ann was like 'oh well, I'll give you no rent increase for the first year.' She phrased it as a big donation when it was just a not rent [sic] increase. The board was like 'yeah, I appreciate that, and we'd like to stay for another year while we find a new location.' And then when the lease came back with a one-year renewal, the space was changed from 'you're not responsible for the floors' to 'as is and any damage you have to pay for.'
That, on top of gas leaks next door at the restaurant the fire department was called at least twice because they smelled natural gas inside the archives of the library. They were just like, 'you know, this isn't a safe place for us to be.' (A manager at M. Henrietta, the restaurant mentioned above, confirmed that Sendziak had made at least one call about a gas leak in the building. He said that no leak was discovered to his knowledge but that the restaurant opened late the following day because of the report of gas).
WCT: Why was that not stated publicly before?
Brad Tucker: Well, two reasons. First off, Karen Sendziak is the most wonderful woman in the world. She's the hardest-working volunteer in the universe, and she just doesn't have skills with people. She doesn't understand the press. She doesn't understand how all that process works. Her thought was, 'if we're going to be negotiating with the old landlord, if we're going to be negotiating with potential new landlords or potential building owners or people who are selling buildings, it should all be really hush-hush and quiet,' so she doesn't have to reveal her hand to other people and they don't know where she's coming from. She thought that would put her in a stronger position to negotiate from. That may or may not have been the case, I don't know. In retrospect, the whole thing was handled really, really poorly. There's no question about that.
WCT: So, has the library signed a one-year lease at the new building?
Brad Tucker: No. At the new location, it's a seven-year lease.
WCT: A seven-year lease?
Brad Tucker: Correct.
WCT: I thought you said the library moved in part because the board wanted a shorter lease so that it could possibly buy a building.
Brad Tucker: That desire still exists, and they searched. They looked at multiple properties and they had a very good real-estate agent and a very good real-estate attorney, and they didn't come up for anything. Quite honestly, too, time was running out quickly.
WCT: So did the library ask for a seven-year lease? Or did the landlord?
Brad Tucker: I wasn't privy to those conversations … but the real-estate attorney was able to negotiate amazing, spectacular lease terms. In exchange for that, we agreed that we wouldn't talk about it publicly, so that other tenants moving into the building wouldn't want the same deal.
WCT: So, if I ask you how much the rent is, you're not going to say?
Brad Tucker: I'm not going to say. I can't say. The library has an agreement not to say.
WCT: When do you anticipate the library will re-open?
Brad Tucker: Honestly, I would guess at the end of the August. I hope it's sooner than that. So much is going to depend on the City of Chicago and the building permits, and the occupancy permits.
WCT: One of the things I've noticed about your space in the building is that it's not easily viewed from the street. How will you make the library visible to the community around it?
Brad Tucker: I can't speak to that right now. I can just tell you that, on the first floor, my understanding is that it's been rented to North Community Bank, which is also the mortgage holder on the property. So it's not going to be a vacant, barren building … . The other thing that I will tell you about the conditions of the lease. One of the conditions of the lease was that North Community Bank guaranteed the lease. So, if the building goes completely down, if they foreclose on it or whatever happens to the building, we get to stay there regardless.
WCT: How much did the move cost?
Brad Tucker: That's adding up quickly. I honestly don't know. I know that the initial payment to the movers was about $13,000. There will be other expenses. I don't know what those will be.
WCT: How much money does the library currently have?
Brad Tucker: I'd really prefer not to discuss the finances of the organization. The organization is really in good healthy condition. It has more than enough money to carry through the move and well beyond.
WCT: Our most recent knowledge of the organizations finances comes from a 2010 IRS 990 form. According to that, the organization had more than $200,000. Is that still the case?
Brad Tucker: Again, I'll decline to answer that.
WCT: OK. The library has advertised in recent weeks that it continues to aid researchers despite being closed. Can you talk about how the library is doing that?
Brad Tucker: So, I honestly don't know that any specific research request has come in since the library's move. We don't have the ability to check out a book right now, but if somebody needed access to the archives, needed access to a specific item in the archives, it wouldn't be the easiest thing, but its manageable and findable, and we could take care of that request.
WCT: How many volunteers does the library have?
Brad Tucker: Again, I'm uncertain because I'm a little bit new at this. I asked Karen [Sendziak], and she said it was between 25 and 35.
WCT: Will the organization continue to operate with this new set of bylaws that has been controversial?
Brad Tucker: I am very committed to taking a good, hard look at those bylaws, and I believe changes will need to be made.
WCT: Will you be planning a general membership meeting?
Brad Tucker: As soon as I possibly can. I really want to create a forum for the community to come and have their questions answered and have their concerns heard.
WCT: What needs to be done to revive Gerber/Hart?
Brad Tucker: It's not a matter of reviving Gerber/Hart. The press reports, the things online, the comments that people made is like Gerber/Hart is on life support. And you can clearly choose to look at that way. On the other hand you can choose to look at it as Gerber/Hart has brand new this amazing opportunity to create itself any way it wants to. And I'm committed to creating Gerber/Hart in a way that it just blows the community away … the collection will be online, I'd say right after or even before we move into the new library.
WCT: What is the state of the archives?
Brad Tucker: I know that you've heard accounts from everything that the archives were sitting in the bathroom to they've all been burned or they've all been sold or whatever. None of that is true. One of the things about Gerber/Hart is that as an archive, its job is to take in more and more and more and more … so that just means the amount of materials is going to continue to pile up and pile up and pile up. One of the great things about this move is that we'll have significantly more space, so they can be processed, organized and made more accessible to the public.
Related coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Gerber-Hart-announces-new-president-Sendziak-remains-on-board/38338.html