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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Public talks library issue
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2012-02-29

This article shared 3867 times since Wed Feb 29, 2012
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When it was discovered in late January that the Gerber/Hart Library in Edgewater was moving, many people in the community questioned why it would relocate and who its board members were.

Board President Karen Sendziak declined to disclose either. ( The other board members are Stan Huntington of Chicago and Don Landers of Arizona. )

In recent days, those most closely associated with the LGBT library have come forward with their feelings about its impending move and its leadership, after Windy City Times reported that the organization is struggling to stay compliant with its bylaws and the laws governing non-profits.

On Feb. 15, a group calling itself "Friends of Gerber/Hart Library" issued a letter to Sendziak, calling on her to open up the organization's governance and stall the move. ( The letter is printed alongside this piece. Her response to it ran in last week's issue. )

Among the letter's authors was historian Sukie de la Croix. He left the board in July 2011, after eight months of service.

"Over the years, Karen Sendziak has been really, really excellent and helpful to the work that I do … just wonderful," de la Croix said. He supported the library and its mission to preserve history.

In December 2010, Sendziak recruited him onto the board. He joined reluctantly because he knew little about how boards worked. He told Sendziak that he would serve on the board to satisfy Illinois law that mandates non-profits operate with at least three board members, but he hoped they could find a replacement soon.

"We were supposed to have meetings every month but it didn't really happen," de la Croix said. Occupied with writing a book, he hardly noticed, but other things struck him as odd.

"There seemed to be no treasurer," he said. "There seemed to be no board members at all."

In July 2011, the board, including Huntington and Sendziak, convened for its first meeting in months, de la Croix said. On the agenda was if the library should purchase a building. de la Croix voted in favor of the move.

"I thought maybe we could get more people involved and clean out some of the rubbish because the place looks like a thrift store," he said.

de la Croix told WCT Sendziak responded to his suggestion to throw out "rubbish" by screaming at him. "That's when she went postal on me," he said. He resigned on the spot and ran from the building.

Another matter arose earlier at that meeting. John D'Emilio, a renowned LGBT historian, had expressed interest in joining the board.

D'Emilio, a professor of history and gender studies, is recognized nationally. A book he co-authored was cited in the landmark court decision to overturn U.S. anti-sodomy laws in 2003. He was a National Book Award finalist. D'Emilio had also been a board member before, and he knew Gerber/Hart well.

When D'Emilio offered to join the board, de la Croix was happy to report the news.

" [ Sendziak ] said, 'No, he's not coming onto the board; that's not happening,'" de la Croix said.

D'Emilio made the offer directly to Sendziak later. Last fall, he approached Sendziak and told her he saw her taking on most of the library's work and he wanted to help.

"I told Karen that I would be willing to recruit and put together a board of people with a range of skills and commitment to the organization so that there could be this turnaround and revival," he said. Her response, he said, was "hostile" and "antagonistic."

Sendziak told him she would consult her lawyer because D'Emilio might have conflicts of interest. He said he knows of none.

Until recently, Patrick Gourley, a former board member, had been a volunteer at the library for more than a decade. He was charged with management of the library, like waking up in the middle of the night when the burglar alarm went off. Gourley also runs the men's book group there.

Gourley echoed the concerns many have about Sendziak's leadership. In late February, after signing the "Friends of Gerber/Hart" letter, he resigned.

According to Gourley, the library's archives were a jumble of books and papers, disorganized and hidden.

"It's so far from being legitimate," he said. "We could never show it to anyone. It's the secret shame."

de la Croix said that when he did research in the archives, he discovered a room in complete disarray, and he found himself literally walking on archival material.

"Jon-Henri Damski's collection is sitting outside of the bathroom and has been for several years," he said.

Cheryl Pattin, who led the lesbian book group at the library, said that she too has watched the library go from "poorly functional to non-functional."

"It's been worse for years and years," she said.

In recent days, Gourley said, Sendziak has cleaned and organized the library as she has come under scrutiny.

One who sees Sendziak differently, however, is Kerry Eason. Eason served on the board for approximately four years until 2008. An attorney, he advised Gerber/ Hart on legal issues until 2009 when he left to work abroad. He has since returned to Chicago but not to the library.

Sendziak recruited Eason onto the board in 2004. Eason said Sendziak volunteered 40-60 hours per week at Gerber/Hart. Sometimes, she stayed so late that she slept in the building, woke up and continued working. When Gerber/Hart struggled to pay rent, Sendziak personally donated more than $5,400.

Eason guesses that Gerber/Hart would not have survived without Sendziak, a statement that even those most critical of her concede is true.

During his time on the board, the library sent notices about its annual meeting and posted meeting details on its website.

"Each year that I was there, the board had the annual meeting, and nobody came," he said. Once or twice, one of the volunteers showed up, he said.

Eason reports he never saw an instance where a potential board member was turned away. Community members submitted resumes, and the board voted to accept that person onto the board, in accordance with the organization's bylaws.

Sendziak is believed to be serving her eighth year as president. The last known copy of the library's bylaws allow for just four consecutive years on the board. WCT has asked Sendziak if the bylaws have been updated since, but received no response.

Eason said that Gerber/Hart needs more community support to survive, but he added few are willing to take on the work.

"The whole time that I was there, I never knew of a single board member or volunteer or anyone who said 'I want to be president,'" he said.

However, both the survival of the library and its leadership likely depend on its upcoming move, yet unexplained. WCT previously reported that building landlord Rae Ann Cecrle wanted the library to stay.

On Feb. 18, Sendziak emailed Cecrle and asked for a lease extension from the end of April until May. Cecrle wrote back the next day and said that she had found a new tenant and was therefore unable to extend the lease. ( A contract has not yet been signed but Cecrle believes the deal is done. ) On Feb. 20, Cecrle said, Sendziak asked for a one-month or year lease extension. Cecrle again declined.

Cecrle said that Sendziak "said in one of her [ emails ] she didn't want to go public with what's wrong [ with the building ] which you are fully aware of."

Cecrle said she is not aware of any significant problems with the property.

The same day that Cecrle declined the lease extension, Sendziak wrote back to the "Friends of Gerber/Hart" group and said "no final decision has been made" about whether or not the library would move. She further wrote that extending the lease as suggested by the group would mean "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?"

A number of people argue that lack of community support for Gerber/Hart is a result of Sendziak's micromanagement. Her own needs, they say, have become too mixed up in the needs of the organization, and her tireless effort to keep the library afloat has devolved into an equally indefatigable battle to maintain control over all aspects of the library.

In non-profit speak, this issue is commonly known as "founder's syndrome." According to an informational sheet provided by Mosher and Wagenmaker LLC, a law firm specializing in non-profit law, in such cases "the 'founder' may effectively cripple an organization by dominating it, even though it may seem such control is necessary in order to keep the organization working."

Founder's syndrome happens when an organization's leadership, honorably intentioned and unknowingly, becomes so fixated on seeing the organization succeed that it eclipses others community members. The result is usually shrinkage of community involvement rather than the growth it should exhibit over time.

Regardless of current controversies, however, Gerber/Hart's finances have improved under Sendziak.

WCT obtained documents that show that the year Sendziak became president, the organization closed out the year with just $37,905. Going into 2011, Gerber/Hart boasted $248,779. Much of that money was the result of bequests.

Such information is available because the library recently filed its missing 2010 IRS 990 form and released it to WCT, after the paper reported that the library failed to file the form amid questions surrounding its impending move. Sendziak submitted the form via mail to the newspaper.

The 2010 filing shows an organization added to its assets since 2009 when it reported assets totaling $235, 936. It also indicates that Sendziak worked an average of 30 hours per week without compensation.

Four members are listed on the 2010 filing. They are Sendziak, Owen Keehnen, N. Elizabeth Reynolds and de la Croix. With the exception of Sendziak, all are believed to have since left the organization.

However, while the organization increased assets over the years, it also lost a grantor. D'Emilio said that Sendziak told him that the Alphawood Foundation did a site visit to the library and found that it was not fulfilling its mission. It consequently discontinued funding Gerber/Hart, a loss that, if similar to past years, cost the library approximately $10,000-$17,500 per year, $5,000 of which was set aside for the archives.

More than a month since the story broke, WCT continues to request answers from Sendziak about the move and library operations. WCT has repeatedly asked Sendziak to respond to such questions and invited her to go on the record, without response. The paper has also requested a list of archival collections.

WCT has not been able to reach Huntington and Landers for comment, either.

Letter from Friends of the Gerber/Hart:

Feb. 15, 2012

Dear Karen,

We are writing as friends of the Gerber/Hart Library. We value it as a community institution and we have supported it in a variety of ways over the years. We have deep concerns about its future. The recent articles in Windy City Times have helped bring these concerns into focus, but have not caused these concerns.

We are very aware that you love Gerber/Hart and have devoted uncountable hours to it. Yet, the seven-plus years of your presidency have produced an increasingly difficult environment. The board has shrunk to almost no one except you. The space, once so pleasant and inviting, has taken on the look of a resale shop and storage room. Programming and exhibits have shrunk to almost nothing. The archives are impenetrable, and there is virtually no access to them except through you. You have made it impossible for others to take on leadership to help fulfill the mission of the organization. You have transformed a public institution that should be transparent and accountable into one that will not release its bylaws, will not list its board members, and has failed to file, despite multiple extensions, its most recent tax reporting form.

Of greatest concern, you seem to be unnecessarily forcing a move to new quarters at a time when you have little community support to carry out what will be a gargantuan task. Taken together, your autocratic leadership and decision-making are endangering a valuable and treasured community institution.

As friends of the Gerber/Hart Library, we ask two things:

1 ) That you immediately contact the owner/realtor and extend the lease on the current Granville space, thereby forestalling a need to move at the present time.

2 ) The organization's governance must be opened up to a new, more extensive board of directors and this must be done in a way that is transparent and easily accessible to the public.

Gerber/Hart's current difficulties can all be solved. But the way Gerber/Hart has been run for the last several years must end. It is making Gerber/Hart a shadow of what it could be and has created a public-relations nightmare for the organization.

Signed by ( in alphabetical order ) :

Bill Bergfalk, Wil Brant, Scott Burgh, Tracy Curran, Sukie de la Croix, John D'Emilio, Patrick Gourley, Roland Hansen, David Howser, Michael Jogerst, Owen Keehnen and Cheryl Pattin


This article shared 3867 times since Wed Feb 29, 2012
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