Skunk - Democracy Redux

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Markand Thakar

Back in 2006, SKUNK published a broadside trying to convince the League's Board and its administration to comply with the requirements insisted upon by the wording and intent of the League's Constitution. SKUNK failed. At first SKUNK concluded that the Board members and the League's administration resented the intrusion into their affairs - even when that intrusion was by a member entitled to be heard: after all, the League has always asserted that it's a democratic institution - with a time-honored Constitution.

Moreover, at that meeting a former president of the League, at the request of the then-current president, spoke for an interminable length of time about how the running of the League, in accordance with its Constitution, would be disastrous. (Sounds like Bush 43, doesn't it? - And we all know that Bush's actions were disastrous to the Republican Party, the nation's economy and the American people - in general.)

This former president's rationalization for the running of the League - as if it were a family-owned and family-controlled corporation: with no legal obligation to inform anyone of their doings, and to insist on maintaining absolute control of all aspects of the running the League - caused SKUNK to wonder: Why? Hugo Chavez, in arranging for a possible lifetime presidency of Venezuela, claimed he was doing so to benefit the less fortunate citizens of his country - for which calumny was heaped upon him by New York's ever-claiming-to-be-liberal community. This, despite that many of those same folks go about supporting our billionaire mayor - who has engaged in a similar action - by claiming that he is the only New Yorker capable of administering our fair city. If true, we're in deep trouble.

Now then, what's the rationale, espoused by the current Board and administration, for their apparent attempts to hinder, instead of foster the involvement of the members of the League (its actual owners) in the running of the League. This is no inference that endeavors even approaching the nefarious exist. But, if the folks involved in the League's administration think that their doings are private - they are ever so wrong.

All non-for-profit organizations, which the League does rightfully claim to be, must file an IRS Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. And make it available, upon request, to the public. That is the law!

If not for the apparent attempts by the Board and Administration to run the League as a private corporation -- and the denigrating of the democratic aspects of the League's Constitution, SKUNK would not have bothered to check on the type of IRS filings required of not-for-profit organizations - such as the League. But, due to the lack of transparency in the running of the League, it seemed appropriate to look into just what's happening.

Every member of the League, and that includes Board Members: who have a fiduciary responsibility to be aware of all aspects of the League's doings, has the right, to request permission to view numerous years of IRS Form 990. Although SKUNK cannot see why there would be a refusal, if refused, by law, the Internal Revenue Service should be advised - and in the case of any member of the Board - one would assume that they must advise the IRS.

The IRS Form 990 would have the same information that can be found in the Treasurer's report - but should also show the salaries of the top wage earners and payments to other individuals - plus much additional information.

As a former member of the Board, SKUNK is sure that the current members and Administration are well aware of their fiduciary responsibilities. Therefore,, SKUNK is sure that every expenditure, for that ten year period - as listed in IRS Form 990, was made for the benefit of the League and its membership - unless otherwise stated.

(It should be noted, that the League, for all practical purposes, is the sole owner of the American Fine Arts Society - which is, and was for sure, until recently, the actual owner of the League's building. Accordingly, an IRS Form 990 would have been required to have been filed by the League for the American Fine Arts Society. Therefore, every member of the League, and that includes Board Members: who have a fiduciary responsibility to be aware of all aspects of the League's doings, has the right, to request permission to view numerous years of IRS Form 990 filed on behalf of The American Fine Arts Society.


Now, let's return to the speechifying ex: president - who concluded - that only he and a few of his cronies, along with their hand-picked acolytes - were the only members from amongst the League's membership of some four thousand, who are capable of running the League.

At the December meeting, one Board member stood up and advised how its members had been and were complying with their fiduciary responsibilities - Bravo! But, she failed to advise the members of just how much of the League's monies, which they were responsible for, were lost due to their (mis-?)handling of its finances. Another member of the Board stood up and claimed that he would now look into the extra compensation paid, as described in SKUNK, of some three hundred thousand dollars during the same year that the League lost millions - (a period when the D-J showed no loss). It should be noted that although this information could be found in the Board's own Treasurer's report, no member of the Board appears to have thought to either read the report or, if read, to question the administration.

In recent years, the Board has spent at least half-a-million dollars on top management, along with professional and consulting fees (with miscellaneous and credit card expenses adding well over one hundred thousand dollars more). This amount does not include the millions expended for professional and who-knows-what expenses due to the selling of the American Fine Arts Society's air rights.

It should also be noted that recent Boards appear to be meeting once a month, or so - whereas, in the not so distant past, when the cost of running the League (and this was when it still had some of its reputation as a major art institution - in addition to being an art school) the Board was meeting weekly - with its members also attending sundry committee meetings, and therefore capable of being mindful of every aspect of the running of the League - for which, as officers of the League, we understand, that they are legally responsible.

Skunk LogoBack again to the speechifying past president - who is also a current Board member - he spoke of his being coerced into continuing to serve on the Board by another past president - who the writer knows as an honorable man and is now retired from the Board (that past president, was serving on the only Board, in recent memory, that was voted out by the membership - which was due to that Board's perceived attempts to MFA the League). SKUNK is in no way questioning the integrity of any Board member or administrator of the League. But, like so many politicians, they appear to claim to be indispensible - and then go about attempting to convince League members, that they really are.

SKUNK doesn't expect all Board members to be on the level of a George Washington, who rejected requests to serve indefinitely as chief executive (or king). But we can expect them to attempt to follow the League's Constitution - and not that of what is proving to be the failed one of money-is-my-God, Wall Street.

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