The Library That Isn't... at least not yet
The damage caused by amateur boards
It's no great secret that the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives is teetering on the brink of total collapse. Circumstantial evidence points strongly to a hijacking by current Board President Karen Sendziak despite the fact that the evidence gleaned from both government filings and public documents tend to indicate that she is well beyond the term limits set by the organization's own bylaws. Sendziak herself refuses to conduct her or the library's affairs in any sort of transparent manner adding even more fuel to an already volatile situation. There is strong evidence that the board membership has fallen well below that required by Gerber/Hart bylaws and below the three-person minimum stipulated by Illinois Statute.
In short, Sendziak runs Gerber/Hart as her own personal fiefdom with little or no regard for the multiple constituencies she is ethically and morally bound to serve.
How could this possibly happen? The short answer is: boards of directors comprised of well-meaning but untrained, inexperienced and nearly ignorant individuals who fail to exercise their primary responsibilities of care and loyalty to the organization. It's really that simple. Prior boards allowed this to happen. Only a portion of the blame can be laid at the feet of Sendziak who of course is certainly guilty of poor leadership and nearly total mismanagement. Someone, in this case ineffective boards, had to allow this to happen. The villains in this are many.
How much is too much?
Specifically, when should a board member's term of office come to an end at Gerber/Hart? As with many other things at Gerber/Hart the bylaws are more secret than a CIA dossier. The Windy City Times has written about having a 1996 and a 2000 copy of the Gerber/Hart bylaws. If one uses the 2000 bylaws as being the current bylaws in force we must conclude that Gerber/Hart has been operating with a sadly deficient board for many years.
Reconstructing the board
Since Gerber/Hart has remained silent on bylaws and board composition, I endeavored to reconstruct the likely board scenario based on publicly available documents. The National Center for Charitable Statistics has copies of Gerber/Hart's IRS Form 990 from 2002 through 2009 on line and available for download as a PDF. Guidestar.com also has information about Gerber/Hart. (Requires free registration.) Based on the 990s that have been filed and by information for 2010 contained in Windy City Times articles, it is possible to reconstruct the Gerber/Hart board for the period 2002–2010. It is important to note that this reconstruction is approximate:
- If an individual is mentioned as a board member in the 990 filing then I assumed that the individual was a board member for the entire year that the filing covers. This may not be accurate but in the case of serial service (service over several years) it is probably more accurate than inaccurate.
- In at least one case it has been reported that the 990 is inaccurate in listing an individual's name. E.g. the individual states that he was not a board member until after the period covered by the 990.
- Board tenure may extend prior to 2002 but since prior information was not available it was impossible to reconstruct years prior to 2002.
- Some individuals have been named as board members for 2011, but the analysis does not cover any years beyond 2010.
- It is now 2012 and clearly at least one board member (Karen Sendziak) still serves and is Board President. In that case certainly, service extends from 2002 through 2012—a mind-boggling ten years given the apparent term limits imposed by Gerber/Hart bylaws.
The reconstruction of Gerber/Hart's Board of Directors can be understood more easily as a Gantt chart. Download the Gerber/Hart Board service Gantt chart here.
How can we fix this?
The short answer is:
- Karen Sendziak must be removed from all Gerber/Hart involvement.
- A strong Board President must be identified and empowered with sufficient authority to appoint an interim board of sufficient size, capability, diversity and interest to rebuild the organization starting with the board itself.
- The immediate problems associated with finding an adequate facility to house the collections must be addressed. Since the exact details of current lease arrangements or new lease arrangements have been kept carefully secret by Sendziak no further comment can be made until exact conditions are discovered.
- Throughout all of this the various constituencies that are served by Gerber/Hart must be consulted, probably through a series of town hall style meetings. The organization currently lacks any credibility with its constituents; it is vital to the survival of Gerber/Hart that this credibility be restored.
- Having thus stabilized the current crises, an ongoing effort to identify and properly elect a board of directors will ensure the ongoing efficacy of Gerber/Hart and its mission.
Can it be fixed?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Progress toward ultimate insolvency and failure may be too far along to avert. It will clearly take a transformational event to restore Gerber/Hart to the path of strength and vitality it deserves. In all probability, only a court of law can make this happen, but courts are typically reluctant to interfere in the affairs of private organizations that aren't in violation of any laws; it's not a violation of the law to be incompetent or stupid.
Stay tuned! We probably haven't heard the last of this and regardless of the outcome, the lessons will be instructive.
You probably came to see the photos of the new Gerber/Hart home as announced by "Board President" Karen Sendziak. A couple of comments are in order:
- The place is absolutely deserted. There is no evidence of any human activity for several months, and certainly no evidence that any construction is imminent.
- There is no evidence that there are any other tenants in the space. It is completely vacant.
- The property is for sale. According to Showcase.com, a commercial real estate website, each floor is 10,000 sf and can be leased for $15–$22 per square foot per year. The listing states the building is completely vacant.
There's not much to the photos except a vacant building and a few signs in he windows. Click here to visit the gallery of Clark Point Plaza Photos.