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The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 28, Issue 41
A council challenged: The Latino Outreach Council faces allegations of mismanagement and misconduct
BY RHYS HEYDEN
Andrea Naemi-Vergne remembers when she first noticed that the Latino Outreach Council was delinquent with the California Department of Justice.
Naemi-Vergne—a council board member at the time—said that, in early 2013, she was horrified to learn that the nonprofit had failed to file necessary charity registration papers with the department since 2004.
She brought the matter to the council board immediately, she said, and was told it would be taken care of.
“I trusted them to fix the problems, and then I found out this April—a year later—that we were still delinquent,” Naemi-Vergne explained. “I said, ‘Wow!’ I felt deceived, and I felt betrayed.”
On April 29, Naemi-Vergne announced her resignation from the LOC board in an email sent to all of her fellow members.
“In 1993, a group of 12 passionate people came together and formed The Latino Task Force. Today you know this organization as Latino Outreach Council. Their vision was to find ways to serve the Latino community and the underserved in San Luis Obispo,” Naemi-Vergne wrote. “Today, we are far from the true mission of this organization, and our infrastructure remains uncertain.”
In addition to the Department of Justice compliance issue, Naemi-Vergne said that improper partisanship, poor organization, and an alienation from the council’s original mission were all contributing factors in her decision to resign.
“Logic told me it was time to move on,” she said. “The governing board did know about these issues, and no action was taken to remedy these matters.”
Several individuals associated with the council—who spoke to New Times on the condition of anonymity—said that Naemi-Vergne isn’t alone with regard to her concerns. At least two other board members are also considering resigning, as of May 1.
When reached for comment, Latino Outreach Council Chair Jacqueline Frederick downplayed concerns about the organization and allegations of mismanagement. Frederick admitted to the Department of Justice delinquency, but said the organization is doing its best to move forward.
“We are in the process of fixing the DOJ issue,” she said. “The DOJ doesn’t send out reminders to file that form, so that’s probably how it slipped through the cracks.
“We are all volunteers, and so our institutional knowledge is not always passed down,” she said.
Naemi-Vergne said she’s baffled about why Frederick and her fellow leaders have been so slow to fix a potentially costly and serious issue that they’ve known about for at least a year.
Though Naemi-Vergne called for a board discussion of the delinquency issues and a freeze on council activities, she said Frederick and other board members gave her the cold shoulder in response.
In an April 21 email response to Naemi-Vergne—who was requesting an agendized council discussion of the “Non-Compliance Tax Issues”—fellow board member and program chair Cuauhtemoc Roa (C.R.) Lara asked Naemi-Vergne to “stop communicating with me via phone, text, or email.”
“I find this step essential to avoid the continuous misunderstanding that you and I have experienced,” Lara wrote.
When asked about the board’s response to Naemi-Vergne’s concerns, Frederick said that she felt the board was responsive and that a freeze was unnecessary.
“I don’t believe it’s necessary for us to suspend LOC actions,” Frederick told New Times. “Outside of the DOJ issue, our nonprofit status—and registration with the IRS—is copacetic and current. We can still operate and take funds.”
In addition, Naemi-Vergne and others have expressed concerns about the council’s mission. They said that the Latino Outreach Council has been more about fundraisers, parties, and political events recently—alienating the organization from the same Latino community it’s designed to support.
“The LOC founders had a passion to serve the Latino community, and to see that go away really just saddens me,” Naemi-Vergne said. “The forums and parties don’t have anything to do with that, and the organization is just no longer being used for its mission.”
Despite the delinquency issues and concerns about over-politicization, the council has been host to several “candidate forums” in the past few months involving the candidates running for the District 4 and District 2 seats on the SLO County Board of Supervisors, as well for county district attorney.
At the District 4 forum on April 16, Naemi-Vergne and at least one other person spoke of witnessing a board member—sitting at the council table—wearing an “I Love Lynn Compton” patch (Compton is one of the candidates for the District 4 seat).
Naemi-Vergne said she confronted the person about the patch and the liability of making a partisan endorsement under the auspices of a nonprofit.
Allegedly, the member refused to remove the patch and told Naemi-Vergne “I do what I want, when I want.”
Naemi-Vergne said she “always wants to think the best of everyone” but sentiments like this ultimately convinced her to leave the LOC.
When asked about LOC priorities in the coming months, Frederick mentioned playing host to further candidate forums, securing fundraising to create a website, and the council’s “Fiesta Latina” fundraiser on May 2.
“I think we are making strides in furthering our mission,” Frederick said.
Staff Writer Rhys Heyden can be reached at email@example.com.