Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Community center

What next after the ouster?


Finally, somebody had the guts to get rid of Rollins Davis.

Now maybe the Northern Kentucky Community Center can get back on track. Maybe it can finally meet its potential, serving East Covington with youth activities, education programs, child care and senior-citizen trips.

Then again, maybe not.

Over his eight years as executive director, Davis' poor record-keeping prompted funders to pull their money out of the center, located in the heart of Covington's African-American community. Programs were canceled. Davis' defensive attitude antagonized people who might have helped, and a succession of board members quit.

Founder's syndrome

Now the majestic old building on Greenup Street, former home of the beloved Lincoln-Grant School, looks abandoned.

Current board members say they don't know the status of the mortgage or even which bank holds the paper. They plan to issue a letter to Davis, who was fired May 20, insisting that he turn over the keys.

Davis' ouster is a good start. But the center's dysfunction can't be blamed on him alone. The bigger problem is an organizational one - and hardly unique to the community center. Experts call it "Founder's syndrome."

Small, non-profit organizations often start because someone - the founder - has a vision for helping people. In East Covington, that person was Bill Martin, a charismatic leader whose forceful personality attracted people and money to the center.

But one person's vision is never enough. Organizations also must have a strong foundation - including job descriptions, training and term limits for board members - to address changing needs and new ideas.

Founders, however, tend to resist such structure. Driven by their mission, they see paperwork and planning as unnecessary distractions.

Here's the result, says Carter McNamara, a Minnesota-based consultant:

"Often, the organization experiences the same problems over and over again. For example, plans are not implemented. Money keeps running out. Board and staff members quickly come and go. The organization struggles from one crisis to another. No one seems to know what's really going on."

This pretty much sums up the Northern Kentucky Community Center. When Martin's health problems forced him to leave in the mid-'90s, the organization lacked a strong structure on which to move forward.

Meeting on Saturday

To their credit, current board members are determined to fix things. At 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kenton County Public Library (Fifth and Scott streets in Covington), they'll meet to discuss restructuring. The public is invited.

For guidance, this board and any others struggling with Founder's syndrome should read McNamara's suggestions at

Happily, there are solutions. If the board lays the proper foundation, the Northern Kentucky Community Center may yet thrive. or 859-578-5584.

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