Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Board scours community center site

Ousted leaders delay search

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Gaming materials found Monday during a tour of the closed Northern Kentucky Community Center will be inventoried by a worker from the Kentucky Department of Charitable Gaming to verify that they belong to the troubled center.

The center's board of directors discovered the unopened pull-tabs and other bingo materials during an hour-long flashlight tour of the darkened center Monday morning.

Board members - with a camcorder and accompanied by a police officer - wanted to check the condition of the building and look for financial records during their first visit to the center since the board split over the May 20 firing of the executive director and board president for mismanagement. On Saturday, Covington resident William Walker was elected interim president of the center's board at a reorganizational meeting billed as a first step toward untangling the nonprofit agency's confusing finances.

"From what we understand, (board members) found pull-tabs," said Leah Cooper, assistant director of the division of licensing and compliance for the Department of Charitable Gaming. "More than likely, the distributor delivered them in the middle of this brouhaha, and there they sit."

Cooper said the Department of Charitable Gaming plans to send a compliance officer to the center as soon as possible to inventory the gaming materials and help the center's board decide what to do with them.

At Saturday's special board meeting, four members of the Northern Kentucky Community Center's board of directors learned that the agency owes nearly $50,000 to the Ludlow bingo hall and another bingo company. The unpaid bills are for hall rental, equipment and supplies since December. Ludlow hall co-owner Darrell Coppedge and Eric Lewis, owner of Mr. Bingo, told board members on Saturday that Rollins Davis, the center's recently fired executive director, gave them bad checks from three different accounts.

"If (the center is) dealing with this big bill, they may want to send (the pull-tabs) back for credit," Cooper said Monday. "When our compliance officer gets up there, he can verify when they were delivered and make sure they belong to the center."

Union Light Heat and Power Co. turned off the center's utilities on May 28 because of unpaid utility bills totaling more than $80,000. The center's doors were locked May 23. In recent years, the center in the heart of Covington's African-American community has come under fire for late tax returns, overdue audits and unpaid bills to various agencies. In July 2001, United Way stopped funding the center because of management concerns and the agency's inability to show what it had accomplished with the charity's programs.

Board members had to briefly delay Monday's tour, when Davis and fired Board President Clifford Cooper complained to Covington police that the group was trespassing at the 824 Greenup St. Address. The two have maintained that they were illegally ousted and are still in charge.

Neither Davis nor Clifford Cooper could be reached for comment Monday.

"Mr. Davis and Mr. Cooper said that these people had no right to be on the property," said Lt. Col. Mike Kraft, spokesman for Covington police. "Mr. Davis said he was concerned that they would damage the property."

Kraft said police assigned an officer to accompany the members on their tour after discussing the situation with board members over the weekend. He said Police Chief Tom Schonecker gave the group permission to enter the center.

"Since the gentlemen were, in fact, members of the board, we felt as though they had every right to go into the building and check it out," Kraft said. "We allowed them in the building, and the officer stayed with them while they inventoried the property."

Board members organized Monday's tour after Walker obtained a key to the locked building from a community center employee. Walker said board members have asked Davis and Cooper to turn over all financial records and are in the process of getting treasurer Charles Fann's name on the center's accounts.

The board also plans to ask the attorney general for an opinion on whether the May 20 dismissals of Cooper and Davis were done properly.

Steve Wolnitzek, who has served as the center's general counsel for more than 20 years, said he has seen two different sets of minutes of the May 20 meeting that contradict one another on the status of Cooper and Davis.

Wolnitzek, who said he attends meetings of the nonprofit agency only when asked, said he has not been to a Northern Kentucky Community Center board meeting in two years.

Wolnitzek said he has asked Cooper and Walker - who both claim to lead competing center boards - for copies of the organization's bylaws and minutes of meetings for the past two years to help him determine the legitimate board officers.

The last set of bylaws Wolnitzek saw required at least 21 board members, he said. However, Walker and members of the board he leads say that number has since been revised to 12 and that the board couldn't fill all of those positions. At the controversial May 20 meeting, the board had eight active members when Walker says it voted 3-2 to dismiss Cooper as board president. Wolnitzek said most organizations generally require a quorum of 50 percent of their board.


E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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