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Majority of PHCA board as of June 30, 2013; Treasurer Jason Craig and President Jesse Spier did not attend this townhouse/public board meeting.

 

PHCA undergoes another leadership change after another closed session by the board

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

 

The Perrysburg Heights Community Association (PHCA) board of trustees has a new president, but residents in that neighborhood served by the non-profit organization—the majority being Latino—don’t feel any less distrustful of what has transpired over the past few weeks. In fact, the Perrysburg Heights residents are extremely upset with the ever-changing board.

 

PHCA board vice president Steve Kramer resigned unexpectedly during a closed-door meeting last week, citing personal reasons. The rest of the board then elected Jesse Spier as the new board president. Spier, who lives near the Cleveland area, has been a board member since last September and runs the Toledo Sport and Social Club, which has rented the Perrysburg Heights Community Center to hold several events over the years.

 

“I don’t have much experience with boards, however, I do a lot of charity events—so I thought it’d be a new experience and I’d like to help out where I can,” Spier said of his initial interest to join the board last fall. “I think I’m pretty level-headed and I don’t get flustered very easily when it comes to how people are reacting to information. I try to stay calm and hear both sides to every story. I just want to move us along.”

 

Spier stated his background as an engineer gives him an “analytical” approach to being a leader who “gathers information” and makes decisions “without emotional responses.”

 

“Quite honestly, I just want it to become a peaceful operation again,” he said. “I want us to be able to move forward from some of the turmoil that has existed and get back to the mission of PHCA, which is primarily based around programming for kids.”

 

The 32-year old PHCA president defended the board’s decision to hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, July 2, 2013, citing the animosity that resulted during a town hall meeting just days before that. Spier was not in attendance at that public gathering because of a prior time commitment out-of-town. Nor was treasurer Jason Craig, who is the subject matter of a recall petition signed by over 130 of the Perrysburg Heights residents.

 

“It is not our belief that executive sessions need to be public sessions,” he said. “Some of our recent open board meetings have not proven to be productive. We needed to have a meeting where we could discuss and try to be more productive.”

 

Ramón Pérez and the Latino Alliance

 

But more than a dozen Perrysburg Heights residents held a strategy session of their own at a home in the neighborhood on July 5th. They met with community organizer and member of the Northwest Ohio Latino Alliance Ramón Pérez to discuss their options as a group.

 

“I think the majority of the residents in Perrysburg Heights think that somehow, in some way, the board has been hijacked from the community,” Pérez said. “Part of the problem is that there’s conflicting information about who’s on the board and who’s making decisions for that neighborhood and are residents part of that. It doesn’t look like it.”

 

The Latino Alliance member contended there are several Perrysburg Heights residents willing to serve on the board, but are being stymied at present.

 

“The current board doesn’t seem to be open to allowing that to happen, so there’s this huge gap between truly representing the neighborhood and it could be outside self-interest,” Pérez said. “That’s a big problem. We’re trying to sift through that and ask the board to be transparent, letting the residents know what’s happened.”

 

The PHCA was formed in 1991 by Anita Sánchez Serda, Magdalena Cárdenas, Janie Costilla, and Fred Moor to benefit the residents of the Heights. Many of the current Latino residents feel alienated and frustrated by what is perceived by them as lack of caring by many on the board, many of whom do not even live in the area—the new president, for example, is from North Olmstead (near Cleveland) and two others are from Adrian, Michigan.

 

But according to the new president: “We’re not trying to cause problems in the area. We’re just trying to do the right thing for the mission, for the community,” Spier emphasized.

 

Pérez called last week’s closed-door board meeting [July 2nd] “problematic.”

 

“It shows there’s a lack of trust not only amongst themselves, but with the community that they’re effectively to serve,” he said. “I know that the community wants to get past this so they can continue to make improvements in the lives of families and children—now and in the future.”

 

The Latino Alliance member predicted that Perrysburg Heights residents would show up at the next PHCA board meeting “in full force to show that there are a lot of residents who want to be on the board and to help move it forward.”

 

“Who else should speak for them?” Pérez openly wondered. “The majority (of the board) should be coming from them, because that’s originally how it was designed.”

 

Many of the Latino residents now feel alienated

 

The two sides appear to have the same eventual goal in mind—to keep the community center open and operating academic, sports, and afterschool activities for the area’s kids. But how they intend to go about it will depend largely on whether trust can be restored and some sort of compromise can be reached on working together.
But some of the Heights’ residents wonder if a balance sheet of over $420,000 may be part of the problem.

 

There may be as many as three open seats—if not more—on the PHCA board, and neighborhood residents want to fill as many of them as possible with Perrysburg Heights volunteers. Some are going so far as to call for the reinstatement of PHCA co-founder Anita Sánchez Serda to the board. She was voted off the board in May for an undisclosed indiscretion that no one appears willing to elaborate on. The vote was 3 to 3 and Ms. Sánchez-Serda and her daughter Stephanie were not allowed to vote, whereas another board member from Adrian, Michigan—Teresa Martínez—was not present at the closed session but was allowed to vote via telecommunications and her vote was to oust Ms. Sánchez-Serda. 

 

But the new board president continues: “We hope to continue operations as we have in the past, and hopefully, improve or expand upon them.”

 

But what also remains unclear is whether the board will hire a director to oversee the day-to-day operations of the center. So far this summer, volunteers, board members, and interns have kept the doors open in an effort to save money since the resignation of former PHCA administrator Stephanie Serda—Ms. Serda maintains that her resignation was “forced.”

 

But the new board president continues: “We have discussed that but have made no decision,” Spier said. “We do realize that there are some time commitments that having a staff member might be beneficial. But we have made no decision on that and will continue to evaluate it as we go through the summer and into the busier time when the school year starts up again.”

 

Neighborhood residents contend there is at least $47,000 in the non-profit’s treasury with an endowment account of an additional $372,000-plus, a figure Spier could not confirm, despite the fact that the PHCA May minutes reflecting these amounts. But he emphasized the organization’s monthly expenses “have been reduced dramatically” without any paid administrative staff on the books.

 

The one firm decision made by the PHCA in recent weeks is to continue to hold the nonprofit group’s annual festival, although it has been renamed, revamped, and reduced to one day. The Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival, will be held Sat., Aug. 10, 2013, 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.

 

“All board members are really reaching out to their contacts,” Spier said, emphasizing that current board members will do their best to ensure a quality festival.

 

Rico de la Prensa contributed to this report.

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/09/13 19:22:35 -0700.

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