Infighting, lawsuits tie CALSC in knots

Print More

Leadership disputes at the Chicago Association of Local School Councils (CALSC) kept the group effectively shut down for much of the fall. Staff were locked out of the group’s offices from Oct. 15 through late November, and the group’s annual convention, scheduled for Oct. 29 and 30, was canceled on short notice. Payment on a major grant to CALSC is said to be in limbo until the current disputes are settled.

Two factions on CALSC’s board-one led by Chair Wanda Hopkins, the other by Vice Chair Stanley Hollenbeck-have taken to maintaining separate bank accounts and holding separate meetings, each acting in CALSC’s name. Hollenbeck’s faction filed a lawsuit against Hopkins in October.

The organization has been unstable since at least the summer of 1998, when it lost $167,000 in the financial collapse of the Latino Institute, which had served as CALSC’s fiscal agent until then. Although then-Executive Director Shiela Castillo secured enough new funding to keep the organization out of the red, she was summarily fired by board vote last December. (Castillo has since filed suit against the organization.) Two board members resigned in the wake of Castillo’s dismissal, leaving the group with a three-person board as 1999 began. Six months later, while the board was recruiting new members, then-Chair William Roberts died.

The current split stems from long-standing tension between Hollenbeck’s faction and Acting Executive Director James Hammonds. (Hammonds is a member of Catalyst’s editorial board.) Both sides say that disagreements have been mounting since last February, shortly after Hollenbeck joined the board.

In general, Hollenbeck and his allies contend that Hammonds has not given board members enough respect or opportunity for input, while Hammonds and his allies contend that members of Hollenbeck’s faction have tried to micro-manage the organization. Subjects of specific disputes have included logistical arrangements for CALSC’s annual convention and the scheduling of board elections.

According to various members of both factions, here’s what happened:

Tensions came to a boil in September. On the 14th, staff called police when two of Hollenbeck’s allies from the board—Treasurer Dan Donegan and Secretary Cheryl Aaron—attempted to remove files and other materials from the office.

At several September meetings, Hollenbeck proposed various motions giving board members more power to conduct day-to-day operations and supervise staff, especially Hammonds. The motions passed, only to be quashed by Hopkins on procedural grounds.

Then, at a Sept. 29 meeting, Hopkins suggested suspending Hollenbeck, Donegan and Aaron from the board. Hollenbeck and his allies contend that Hopkins didn’t get the necessary votes, but Hopkins has acted as if the three were suspended.

The two groups have operated in parallel ever since.

Hopkins wasn’t there when Hollenbeck presided over an Oct. 7 meeting where six members voted to remove Hammonds from his post, to postpone the convention until spring 2000, and to adopt new by-laws that gave board members authority to act on CALSC’s behalf in all legal and financial dealings.

The next day, Donegan and Aaron closed CALSC’s account at South Shore Bank, withdrawing $55,000 to open a new account at another bank. Hammonds, who continued to report to work, says he found out that the money had been withdrawn when checks started bouncing.

A few days later, Donegan, Aaron and Hollenbeck filed suit against Hopkins, asking the court to recognize their standing as board members.

Before a ruling could be made, the organization faced a logistical challenge: CALSC’s lease on its Jackson Blvd. offices was about to expire, and the group was slated to move to new offices on State St.

Hollenbeck’s faction had hired movers to do the job on Oct. 16, but they hadn’t told the staff about the plan, fearing that Hammonds would attempt to interfere. When the movers showed up, Hammonds and other staff in the office objected, and Hollenbeck says he brought the police around to clear things up. The cops forbade anyone to move anything until CALSC’s disputes were resolved and advised the Jackson Blvd. building management to lock out everyone.

Nonetheless, a few days later, Hollenbeck’s faction made arrangements with lawyers for both the Jackson Blvd. and State St. buildings, and the move happened on the 20th.

Hammonds and other staffers found out about the move two days later, when they looked in on the State St. space and found the organization’s belongings already there.

While they were there, Hollenbeck, Aaron and Donegan came by, but they declined to give any staffers a key; Donegan later made the lockout official in a letter.

Hammonds and other staffers say they have continued to try to conduct CALSC’s business out of their homes. A few days after the confrontation at the State St. offices, Hammonds scrapped his efforts to mount the CALSC convention.

On Oct. 26, Chancery Court Judge Lester D. Foreman ruled that Hopkins had exceeded her authority in suspending Hollenbeck and his faction from the board. He later clarified his ruling to order their reinstatement, retroactive to the 26th. Another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 1.

At press time, in late November, CALSC’s status is unclear. In November, the two factions have held separate meetings, and payment on a $100,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is on hold, say Hammonds and Hollenbeck, pending resolution of the current disputes. A spokesperson for the foundation has declined to comment.

Hollenbeck says that he has continued to pay staff, excepting Hammonds, and that as soon as telephone lines are hooked up in the State St. offices, they will be invited back to work.

Hopkins says that unless the two sides reach a compromise, she would like to call new board elections in the hope of getting a fresh start. She hopes that any staff fired by Hollenbeck’s faction would be re-hired.