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|YouthPride faces immediate eviction; legal existence of agency questioned|
|Written by Dyana Bagby and Laura Douglas-Brown|
|Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:54|
YouthPride faces immediate eviction for not paying more than $34,000 in rent, according to recent letters delivered to the nonprofit agency by attorneys representing the property owners.
The nonprofit serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth ages 13-24 has been told that Fulton County law enforcement can show up any day and ask the occupants to take their personal belongings and leave the premises.
"The Fulton County Sheriff's Office has been put on notice … and can knock on the door and ask YouthPride to leave the premises," Patt Cianciullo, a CPA who co-chaired a volunteer task force to look at the financial situation of YouthPride, said at a meeting Feb. 8 to discuss the group’s findings.
YouthPride’s financial troubles became public in December, when Board President Jordan Myers posted on Facebook that the agency needed to raise $25,000 in one week, and Executive Director Terence McPhaul said YouthPride had to raise $40,000 by Dec. 31 or face closure in 60 days. Despite that deadline passing with only about $20,000 raised, YouthPride currently remains open.
In the wake of the financial crisis, questioning by GA Voice revealed confusion within YouthPride about such basic issues as who serves on the board of directors and when the last board meeting was held.
Charlie Stadtlander, a gay teacher, organized a Jan. 25 meeting of LGBT leaders and allies at AID Atlanta to discuss the YouthPride crisis. Attendees created two task forces, one to look at YouthPride’s financial and legal viability, and one to figure out how services for LGBT youth could continue if YouthPride shuts down.
“We were trying to get to the crux of the issue and figure out what we could do to help save the organization and most importantly, to try to make sure the kids could still get the services they so desperately need," Stadtlander said at the Feb. 8 meeting.
The space YouthPride rents is owned by Inman Park United Methodist Church. On Jan. 27, the law firm of Briskin, Cross & Sanford, representing the church, delivered a "notice of termination" to YouthPride demanding payment of $34,743.53 in past due rent and including late charges and attorneys' fees. The Jan. 27 letter follows a Dec. 7 letter asking for unpaid rent and then a "demand for payment and notice of default" notice delivered on Jan. 14.
"It's very serious," Cianciullo said. "It's imminent."
The Jan. 27 letter goes on to say that YouthPride's lease is now "terminated" and urges those in the agency to "quit the premises promptly and peacefully of your own accord in order to mitigate further damages."
Calls and emails to the attorneys and to the Fulton County Marshal's Office, which is in charge of evictions, were not immediately returned.
At last night’s meeting, McPhaul tried to diffuse the situation by saying the attorneys for the church have not filed any legal paperwork to have YouthPride kicked out of its building.
"We haven't received anything from the court and I did speak with the attorney [for the church] who indicated nothing had been filed with the court at the time I talked with him. I do know that they may intend to file something soon. Nothing had been filed with court when I talked to him," he said.
When asked by Queer Justice League member Art Izzard about who is the legal representative for YouthPride, McPhaul said that responsibility would typically fall to a board member. In the past that has been former board president Frances-Ann Moran, but Moran has stated she is no longer a board member.
“I would call one of the former board members,” McPhaul said, when asked who he would call if YouthPride needed legal representation.
Cianciullo explained Wednesday she estimated YouthPride's debt at $73,861 as of Feb. 8. The debt was estimated using documents provided to the task force by McPhaul. McPhaul disputed that amount, however, because not all documents were given to the task force.
“We put out a list of about 20 items. Some were produced and some were not," Cianciullo said.
Items not produced include YouthPride's most recent budget, bank statements for all accounts and YouthPride's attorney's letter, which addresses any contingencies and pending litigation as required during the last financial audit. Also not produced were minutes of board meetings from 2009-2011.
McPhaul said board chair Jordan Myers, who he said did not attend the Feb. 9 meeting due to illness, was apparently transcribing the minutes from the board's last official meeting held in December 2010.
Myers and McPhaul have publicly stated the agency currently has a non-functioning board — Myers listed three board members, below the minimum of five required by YouthPride’s bylaws. The bylaws also require monthly board meetings and an annual meeting, while the YouthPride board hasn’t met since December 2010. That leads to questions of whether the agency itself actually exists, said Stadtlander,
“The flaws in the board of directors are not Terence's fault. I think Terence has been trying in good faith to keep the agency in running,” Stadtlander said.
“The question becomes, and I feel like I'm in this constant Catch-22 … if Terence has people he finds to be on the board ...but we don't have an existing board fo directors that’s a legal entity and no provision in bylaws to elect those people he wants to bring on, how do we get a board of directors?” he asked.
The investigation into YouthPride's viability is not to lay blame on anyone, Stadtlander added.
“It is undeniable that YouthPride is in a bad spot right now in terms of their finances and their governance. … Nobody came onto this task force with the intent of trying to cause harm to YouthPride. All came on with the hope to come to some sort of understanding of where YouthPride is right now, not place blame on anybody," he said.
"We want to have a discussion about the likely viability of YouthPride going into the future, and if [it is not viable], what as a community do we need to do to make sure we have a plan of action?”
A task force to look at providing programming for the youth who use YouthPride should the agency close tomorrow was also set up as a contingency plan. Kathy Colbenson, executive director of CHRIS Kids, explained that AID Atlanta would take over free HIV testing that is now part of YouthPride's services while weekly support groups could be held at Saint Mark United Methodist Church.
CHRIS Kids Counseling Program would also take over the immediate needs of youth who are currently utilizing YouthPride's free counseling services.
“I think we are good with having a plan that could go on for several months. … This is strictly a short term emergency plan to make sure that no kid suffers,” Colbenson said.
McPhaul said plans are still underway to try to secure funding for the agency.
“Our plans have not changed in terms of looking to secure funding. That process is not over," he said.
Top photo: YouthPride Executive Director Terence McPhaul (by Dyana Bagby)
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