WCNO heads for annual meeting amidst major dysfunction

 WCNO Executive Director Roberta Englund says the organization's bank statements and board meeting minutes are available for public review by appointment at the WCNO office. She and the organization have been criticized by community members for a lack of transparency.  Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

WCNO Executive Director Roberta Englund says the organization's bank statements and board meeting minutes are available for public review by appointment at the WCNO office. She and the organization have been criticized by community members for a lack of transparency. Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

A slew of Webber Camden Neighborhood Organization board members have resigned in recent months. A vocal group of community members say the organization lacks transparency, inclusivity, and effectiveness. 

Kenzie O'Keefe | Editor

The future of Webber Camden Neighborhood Organization (WCNO) is uncertain. 

Following WCNO’s August board meeting, where police were called to deal with disruption, several board members resigned. In the following weeks, more departures brought the total number of board members down to four—a violation of the organization’s bylaws, putting it out of compliance with the City of Minneapolis’ Community Participation Program (CPP) and making it too small to be recognized as an official neighborhood organization. 

Though the situation was resolved relatively quickly (with a board vote on Oct. 4 to bring in new members), it caused the City to initiate a financial and structural review of the organization.

In Minneapolis, neighborhood organizations are independent nonprofits, supported by the Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department. “We’ve been watching this. We’ve been concerned with a lot of how this has been playing out,” said NCR Director David Rubedor.

The drama led WCNO Executive Director Roberta Englund to announce her resignation after more than 20 years on the job. She says she’ll leave her position at the end of 2018. “I’ve had enough. I’m tired of it,” she told North News in September. 

The final years of her tenure have been tumultuous. For years she led both the Folwell Neighborhood Association (FNA) and WCNO out of the same office at 1206 37th Ave. N. Last year, she and several longtime board members resigned from their positions at FNA following acrimonious accusations from community members that Englund abused her power and that the board was acting out of compliance with its bylaws.

WCNO’s August board meeting marked the beginning of a similar process in Webber Camden. Concerned community members began showing up to board meetings to voice their issues with the organization: its treasurer was pleading guilty to a charge of malicious punishment of a child; its community engagement efforts felt out of touch and un-inclusive to many in the neighborhood, and the environment Englund created inside the office and at meetings was seen by some to be hostile, demeaning, and lacking in transparency.

“WCNO is predictably imploding,” said Folwell resident Carolyn Bastick who has followed both the FNA and WCNO situations closely.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

When board chair Linda Koelman resigned in late August, then-Vice Chair Kevin Aldwaik says he became the new board chair by default. The rest of the current WCNO board and Englund contest his claims of leadership, saying the organization currently has no board chair.  Rubedor says the city recognizes him as the board chair. 

Aldwaik, who doesn’t live in North Minneapolis but owns Webber Mart convenience store on 44th Ave N, says his new role has enabled him to put pressure on the organization to better serve the neighborhood. On September 10, he emailed a list of requests to WCNO board members and Englund, asking for full access to WCNO’s online accounts and social media pages, staff member job descriptions, a fully updated set of bylaws, disclosure of assets and liabilities, contact information for block club leaders, and access to online banking records. 

He says he had previously requested that information and been repeatedly brushed off and ignored by Englund. “Neighborhood organizations are very important. Ours sadly hasn’t been functioning for a very long time,” he said.

Aldwaik says he is particularly concerned with the organization’s financial activities. “We’re one of the wealthiest organizations around and the least effective. We don’t spend our money on anything but payroll and the office,” he said. “I hope to god we don’t have embezzlement, and I don’t think we do, but we have mismanagement big time.” He points to WCNO bank statements that show transfers to Englund’s personal account as evidence of misconduct. Englund says these are payroll transfers (of roughly $1400 twice per month) and reimbursements for modest organizational expenses. She says the board has never asked her to handle things differently.

Board member Houston White says there isn’t malicious financial wrongdoing happening at WCNO. He points to a recent audit of the FNA under Englund’s leadership as evidence. “There was probably some bad accounting, some bad bookkeeping, but nothing malicious, criminal, or mischievous was discovered in any of that,” he said.

Englund says that while the upcoming city-led audit of WCNO will likely reveal some sloppy errors, like unreimbursed expenses, there will be no “findings of a criminal nature.”

ENGLUND’S PRESENCE

For years community members have complained about Englund’s temperament. “She has a very strong personality and thinks she can do whatever she wants,” Aldwaik said. “All of us get abuse from her.” 

"Roberta needs to go now ... [the board doesn't] have to accept the ED's stated last day of employment. She is the problem. If they don't remove her as ED, they can't do anything,” said Bastick.  

Englund defends her leadership style, saying it comes from a place of fierce devotion and protectiveness for the neighborhood. “If you are working with me and you don’t come with good intentions, for the benefit of the organization or the community, I generally identify that,” she said. She says those who view her role as a “position of power” misunderstand the situation. She characterizes her job as “one of service,” saying, “They don’t understand…how much work it is.”

White agrees that “there have to be some tonal changes,” but he doesn’t see Englund’s exit as the solution. “Our problems are not going to be solved if Roberta is not around. We have an example: FNA. That is not the answer,” he said.

Rubedor says that concerns of “management override” were identified in the recently-completed FNA audit. “Management override is a serious concern and may demonstrate that the board has lost control of the organization. The audit also showed there were concerns about other internal controls,” he said. 

He says NCR is currently supporting the WCNO board while initiating an audit and assessing the organization for compliance with city reporting requirements. “I can’t say for sure whether or not they are in compliance right now,” he said. 

DESTRUCTIVE CONVERSATION

Much of the conversation about the situation at WCNO has played out over Facebook.

“If I had my way I would obliterate the existence of Facebook. I abhor it. It does an enormous amount of damage. Because it is unfettered, there is no reasonable discussion,” said Englund. 

Rubedor sees harm in it too: “There’s been a lot of chatter going back and forth that can be really destructive.” 

White wishes dialogue could stay respectful. “There are people who have taken an issue with Roberta and the direction of the board, and I get that. But where I’m from, when you don’t agree, you remain respectful. We have channels set up to get things accomplished without going to social media to besmirch people’s character,” he said.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

WCNO’s annual meeting will be held Nov. 8; eight (of 11 total) board positions will be up for election. According to an early September press release from the organization, Oct. 18 was the deadline to submit an application. White says nominations for board members can also be made from the floor. 

Englund says she hopes that a full board of “members that are committed to working together for the wellbeing of the WCNO and foremost for a vitality in the community” is elected on Nov. 8. She says her plan is still to retire at the end of the year, unless the board asks her to stay on up to 60 days longer to assist with their transition. 

Rubedor says the City will step in and provide board training after the elections: “Our goal is to have the board understand their roles and responsibilities with financial and staff management and working with all members of the community,” he said. 

Aldwaik says he does not plan to seek reelection on Nov. 8.

White, whose term is not up, plans to stay. “I’m committed to seeing through peaceful, positive transition, reestablishing some sanity and order, a more neighborly and less hostile tone,” he said. 

Kenzie O'Keefe