Frederick E. Smith introduced himself at a community function
several weeks back, and I couldn't resist.
"The man with a death wish," I
greeted the new executive director of the troubled ONE/CHANE
community organization that serves North Hartford.
The agency, whose deep roots intersect with the activism of
a former community organizer named Eddie Perez, has become an
embarrassment. Black folks squabbling over control, money and
stature while funders look on askance fits right in with the
common notion by those never quite enamored of the African American
If the mission of empowering and providing services for poor
people wasn't so compelling, a case could be made to shutter
ONE/CHANE's doors permanently. It may happen anyway.
A disgruntled, detached and dysfunctional board of directors
is chiefly to blame for the organization's internal and external
problems. A board of directors in disarray usually is reflected
in the day-to-day operations of its agency.
The ONE/CHANE board members let former Executive Director Larry
Charles have his run of the place with impunity, then were indignant
when they found out he had alienated key funders, staff and community
Now, they're micromanaging the new guy.
Smith, the 54-year-old former director of a New Haven-based
behavioral health agency, knew he'd be stepping in some doo-doo
in trying to clean up this mess. He just didn't realize how deep.
There are self-anointed board spokesmen, which is news to Chairman
Terry Waller. The Hartford fire captain is struggling mightily
to put this structural blaze out. One board member brazenly tried
to change the locks to the organization's office before being
confronted by Smith. A faction on the board wants to oust both
Waller and Smith.
"I told them very pointedly that as long as I'm executive
director, I'm going to have control of this office," Smith
said, reached Tuesday at a health convention in Chicago.
He was hired in January and
said his brief attempt to redirect the organization is akin
to "pushing a boulder uphill with
two people sitting on it trying to push it down."
Despite the drama, there's actually a glass-half-full scenario
for ONE/CHANE. In Smith, they have an integrity-first administrator.
An audit of the finances is supposedly near completion. The agency
is under the impression that it is eligible for about $1 million
in state money, if it can get its act together. A new strategic
plan was introduced at a special meeting Monday night, attended
by about 30 people who implored the four board members who attended
to stop the madness.
The biggest indicator of whether the agency can rebound will
be a May 5 annual meeting. Five of the 11 board slots are expected
to be filled.
"I'm hoping and praying that the annual meeting gives me
a competent, capable and passionate board of directors to work
with," Smith said. "One of things I've experienced
in my time here is that there is some level of confusion about
what the board's function is."
OK, so here's a little primer.
Board of directors: You guys set the policy for the operation.
Then let the director do his thing. Hold him accountable with
timely performance reviews and get regular updates on the finances
and the strategic plan. If you can raise some money through your
personal contacts, that would be good, too.
Executive director: You handle the day-to-day. Stay on point
with the strategic plan, hire competent staff - no relatives
or cronies - and become a trusted ambassador for the organization.
This is crisis time for the city, particularly North Hartford.
Young boys are dying because of a shoot-first mentality to resolving
beefs. Young men are impregnating multiple women, abstaining
only when it comes to their responsibilities as dads. And a literacy-challenged
school system has actually eliminated reading coaches and high
school honors programs as part of its budget cuts.
Now, the adults appointed to provide leadership for the poorest
community in one of the poorest cities in America are behaving
Meanwhile, the money needed to run ONE/CHANE is being frittered
"I'm very optimistic that having a strong board of directors
will be one of the things that moves the organization forward," Smith
Mending the agency's business problems is one thing. Erasing
the stain on a tarnished reputation is quite another.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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