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PHCA UPDATE: On Tuesday, July 2, 2013, at 6:30PM, the PHCA Board met again with no notice to the public and in violation of its own bylaws and possible violations of Ohio's Sunshine laws; the Board refused the residents of the Perrysburg Heights to attend the meeting and unconfirmed reports indicated that acting president Steve Kramer resigned and was replaced by Jesse Spier.
   

PHCA Board hosts town hall meeting
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

June 30, 2013: The Perrysburg Heights Community Association (PHCA) will have its annual festival this summer, but it won’t be known as the Ohio South of the Border Festival, and it won’t be two days, but one day. 
 


Steve Kramer and Teresia Buck

Instead, the PHCA board of trustees renamed it the Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival, to be held Sat., Aug. 10, noon to midnight. Admission will be free, but parking will cost $2. The festival will be held on the grounds of the PHCA community center and feature music, dancing, games, food, beverages, and raffle drawings.

But the immediate future of the organization and its leadership remained unclear, even after the board of trustees gave the public a chance to air their numerous grievances Sunday afternoon, June 30, during a town hall meeting.

“We’d like to look to the future. We don’t want to hear bad-mouthing about anybody who was previously on the board. We don’t want to bad-mouth anyone currently on the board. Speak your mind, but let’s be respectful,” warned board vice president Steven Kramer. “We’re not declaring war on the Heights, as someone wrote on Facebook.”

But the board received an earful from present and former Perrysburg Heights residents during the hour-long session, which was followed by the board’s June meeting. About three dozen people attended the public meeting. A sheriff’s deputy also was present to keep order at the meeting.

Many were angered by the removal of one of PHCA’s original co-founders from the board in May. Several speakers demanded the reinstatement of Anita Sánchez-Serda, who also resigned her position as festival coordinator. Kramer previously stated Ms. Sánchez-Serda was voted off the board “because of something she did,” but has since refused to elaborate.

Her daughter Stephanie Serda later resigned as PHCA executive director and board president. The community center remained open for kids on summer break this week. Kramer told the crowd the center has been staffed by the board, volunteers, and interns.

A June 18 emergency board meeting was abruptly canceled, after what Kramer described as “threats” were made to certain board members. But the board vice president has refused to characterize the nature of the threats and no police report was ever filed.

Stacey Paige and other audience members accused the board of violating the nonprofit organization’s own bylaws in how meetings were conducted, votes were taken, and minutes recorded.

“We’re trying to get back on track. My children have been praying at night that we can save the center,” she said. “It seems like a runaway train that is off-course and our intentions are simply to get it back on track like it was previously.”

“My heart is completely devoted to continuing everything that my father and all of his friends and neighbors and community began so many years ago,” said Mardi Ledesma, a former Perrysburg Heights resident. “[That is] to provide a safe place and a place where our kids and community could continue to work toward having a better life, a better education. That’s why we were established and brought together. We hope we can come to a resolution and start fresh.”

But Ms. Ledesma indicated some residents have sought legal advice “to void” previous board decisions if necessary.

An argument erupted between the board and the audience over the recent removal of PHCA board member David Humbarger. It was explained that he was kicked off the board for the alleged lack of attendance at meetings. Residents questioned whether Humbarger had been properly informed and the decision was made according to the nonprofit’s bylaws.

Erica Hehl, a Perrysburg Heights resident, stated that her daughter attends activities at the community center, which she added provided her children Christmas presents when she could not afford it. Her daughter also learned how to read at the center. She told the board the recent conflict and controversy only hurts the kids in the neighborhood.

“To me, it’s unbelievable that all this stuff is happening. It breaks my heart because the center is supposed to be about community and about family,” said Ms. Hehl. “I don’t understand the intentions of some people. We are the voices. If we aren’t here speaking, then there’s no point. Listen to what we tell you, because it’s about the children.”

Three members of the Toledo-based Latino Alliance also spoke at the meeting, warning the board of “further involvement and action.” Community organizer Ramón Pérez questioned “the transparency” of recent board proceedings. He encouraged the board to examine past actions according to its bylaws and facilitate more open communication and the release of information to the public.

“It makes people come to certain conclusions that there’s hidden agendas and you cannot have hidden agendas or conduct business under the table,” said Pérez. “I’m here to say the Latino Alliance is very concerned in terms of how business is being conducted. We feel that there have been some violations. If there have been missteps, then you need to look at that, own up to it and fix it.”

“We’re here to observe and to see if there will be movement in a positive direction,” echoed alliance member Robert Torres. “I believe, in the end, that you all want to do what is right. I think the solutions are right here in this room.”

Torres informed the PHCA board that the Latino Alliance represents Latino-focused organizations across the Toledo metro area. He expressed hope that any issues would be addressed promptly, warning that “other resources are going to come in” and that “nobody wants to go down that path, because everybody loses.”

Other audience members expressed concern that the present conflict does nothing to help the overall reputation of Perrysburg Heights, which many stated “had a dark cloud over it” by many in the community years ago because of its preponderance of Latinos. The Perrysburg Twp. area was previously denigrated by others who called it “The Dogpatch.”

Eight members of the board attended Sunday’s meeting. Two were absent, including Treasurer Jason Craig. No clear explanation was given for his absence. 133 signatures appear on a petition presented to the board calling for Craig’s removal from office.

The PHCA board also is looking for two new board members. Several people stated their interest in filling those open seats at the town hall meeting. Those who expressed interested will be contacted by phone or email. According to the organization’s website, in closed session after the public meeting, the terms of current board members Mary Ruiz and Chico Martínez of Adrian, Michigan also were renewed for an additional three years.

The next PHCA monthly board meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 22. The nonprofit’s website states the meeting is open to the public.

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/02/13 20:12:06 -0700.

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