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Gerber/Hart insiders issue letter to board
Community questions break Gerber/ Hart silence
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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A group of Gerber/Hart Library insiders has issued a letter to the organization's board of directors requesting that the organization open up its governance and discuss questions surrounding its plans to move locations.

The letter has prompted the first on-record response from Board President Karen Sendziak since Windy City Times first reported that the library was for rent a month ago.

The group—calling themselves "Friends of the Gerber/Hart" and composed of volunteers, members, past board members and others connected to the library—issued the letter to Gerber/Hart President Karen Sendziak and the board Feb. 14.

The letter came after a series of Windy City Times stories that revealed Chicago's LGBT library is planning to move amid questions surrounding its compliance with non-profit law and board of directors. Sendziak has yet to disclose basic information about the organization, stating that the library's attorney, who she declined to name, must respond to media inquiries. Sendziak has further declined to immediately disclose the names of current board members.

Dave Howser, who is part of the group that issued the letter, said that the group supports the library and wants to help it.

Howser served as board president immediately before Sendziak took on the role in 2004. He is also a dues-paying member of the library and, until late January, worked as a volunteer shift coordinator.

According to Howser, approximately 10 people put their names to the letter, most of whom declined to release their names for publication. Others who did not sign the letter are also involved, Howser said. Of that group, just Howser and Cheryl Pattin agreed to be named on-record, Howser said. Pattin could not be reached in time for publication.

The letter asked Sendziak to consider postponing the move and to open up governance of the library to "a new, more extensive board and it must be done in a way that is transparent and easily accessible to the public," Howser said.

"It's not about us versus Karen [ Sendziak ] ," he said. It's about how we can add our voices to the direction of the library."

Howser said that the group does not have legal authority over the organization. Rather it is a group of people who have been closely connected to the library over years that are worried that the library cannot survive or thrive without more board members.

"There just needs to be more people involved in the decision-making process," Howser said.

As of December 2011, the library did have two board members in addition to Sendziak, who is listed as both president and acting treasurer on an annual report filed with the Secretary of State. Don Landers, a resident of Arizona, and Stan Huntington of Chicago are listed as board members. Huntington is named as acting secretary while Landers is a board member.

Messages to Huntington were not returned. Landers did not respond immediately to a request to comment on the library.

On Feb. 19, Howser went to Gerber/Hart, located in Edgewater, and asked Sendziak if she had received the letter. He said that Sendziak confirmed that she had and that a response was forthcoming. That response came on Feb. 20.

According to Howser, the group did not release the WCT at the request of a board member. Howser said he was surprised that Sendziak had released a letter to press under such circumstances.

Howser said that the group began talking about issues related to the library after WCT found that the library was for rent and raised questions about its ability to move.

"There are problems that have been accumulating for years before this article," he said.

Howser said he sees the move as an opportunity for the library to grow, but that the group wants to open up that decision-making to library members.

"It feels like so many things are decided by one person," Howser said.

Some community members have said that they feel Sendziak controls too much of the organization, while others have noted that Sendziak kept the library running when few others would, working entirely as a full-time volunteer to keep the library open.

It is not widely known why the library plans to relocate. Windy City Times previously reported that its landlord wanted to keep the library in the neighborhood.

The group's plea to postpone the library's move may have come too late, however.

The building's landlord, Rae Ann Cecrle, confirmed that she is in the middle of contracts with a new tenant. She said that Sendziak called her and asked for a rental extension because the library has not yet found a space. However, Cecrle said that her tenants were already set to move in. She said she contacted 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman and asked him to assist the library in relocating.

Osterman previously told Windy City Times that he wanted to keep the library in the neighborhood and had offered to help the organization.

Gerber/Hart now must move before May 1.

Windy City Times has continued to ask Sendziak to disclose information about the library, including what bylaws it is operating under, who its board members are and how long Sendziak has served as president. Sendziak has stated that the library's attorney is working on those questions but would not name when answers would be made available. Windy City Times began asking questions about the library's operations approximately one month ago.

However, on Feb. 20, questions about Sendziak's response to the "Friends of the Gerber/ Hart" letter prompted a response from Sendziak, who disclosed the following letter to WCT:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for bringing your concerns about Gerber/Hart to my attention in your letter of Feb. 15. I will address what you say is your "greatest concern" first—that is Gerber/Hart's possible move, and I stress possible, because no final decision has been made, notwithstanding what you may have read in the Windy City Times.

The impending expiration of Gerber/Hart's lease for the space on Granville mandates that a prudent board of directors considers whether to stay or to move. There are many issues to take into account, among them finances, access, space, safety and the landlord's record with us. We have declined, as is right to do, to deliberate or to negotiate in the press. In this regard, we have proceeded no differently than the board of directors of Gerber/Hart proceeded back in 1998, when we moved to the Granville space from the space on Paulina. Then, as now, the board studied all the relevant factors over a long period of time and took the decision it thought best. We regard this as our fiduciary duty. No attempt was made then, nor can we permit any attempt to be made now, to stampede the Board into any decision by the press or any other party.

While the board is open to, and will consider, the opinions and wishes of all of the friends of Gerber/Hart, including members of the press, individuals such as yourselves, the alderman and community groups, the final decision will be the one the Board believes best serves the interest of Gerber/Hart and the community it serves.

You—who elsewhere in your letter are critical of what you call my autocratic leadership—demand, without knowing the issues involved or the status of the negotiations, that I "immediately" renew the lease on the Granville space, acting unilaterally, ignoring the board of directors and setting aside all the study and negotiation that has been done up to now. What sort of leadership would it be for me to do that? In what way would that fulfill my fiduciary duty to Gerber/Hart?

The balance of your letter is a critique of my leadership. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion. To the extent any specific points can be discerned in what you say, I would reply with the following:

—Yes, a tax return was filed late and another contained a list of board members from the wrong year. These are trivial errors that any organization could make. The late tax return has now been filed and the erroneous one is being amended.

—Yes, there are fewer board members, because in recent years it has been difficult to find qualified individuals who are willing to devote the time needed and are not burdened by conflict of interest. As for transparency, the application for board membership has been on our website for years. The board has three members, and their identity is a matter of public record, on file, as required, with the secretary of state. A board recruitment task force was recently formed to help recruit more members.

—Yes, the space looks a little run-down. That is, in fact, one of the many issues the board is considering in connection with the possibility of a move.

—As for programs, we have eight planned for March. As for exhibitions, we revitalized them last fall starting in October with an exhibition highlighting our AIDS posters; in November, we staged an exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of "Reeling," the gay and lesbian film festival; currently, we have an exhibition about Broadway musicals.

I would add, although you don't mention it, that thanks to my efforts Gerber/Hart's financial base has steadily improved, and today is sound.

Other points you make are histrionic—that Gerber/Hart is a "shadow" of its former self, that the archives are "impenetrable," that my style is "autocratic"—and do not deserve a response.

I hope that all the friends of Gerber/Hart will support the board as it undertakes the serious and complex task of determining our new home.


Karen Sendziak

Windy City Times will update this story online as details become available.

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