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YWCA Board Says Election to Settle Issues

Months after a coup, new leaders take legal steps to assume full financial control.

May 11, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Hardly has one dizzying upheaval subsided than a new one begins.

At least that's the way it has seemed lately at the YWCA of Central Orange County, where life has the feel of a roller coaster ride.

Last November, the organization's board of directors said financial pressures were forcing them to close and probably sell their 47-year-old headquarters in Orange. Four months later, a group of dissidents -- claiming such action was premature -- formed a new board committed to saving the beloved club.

Eventually the upstart board of directors and its designated staff seized control of the building, changed its locks and pressured the old board to resign. A period of confusion followed, with each group accusing the other of illegality and conduct unbecoming representatives of the Y. Grant applications were put on hold, and funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development withheld. The state attorney general's office stepped into the fray with a letter to the Y's new leadership challenging its assertion that it had been officially recognized by an array of other agencies, including the attorney general's office.

Most recently, the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana and Tustin -- which had been operating a child-care program in the Y's building under an agreement with the previous board -- announced that, because the new board withdrew some previously free services, the club would relocate its programs.

YWCA administrators now say they are scrambling to fill the void with a new program of their own. They are also working hard, they say, to restore HUD funding and take legal steps to assume full financial control.

As for any lingering doubts regarding the new board's legitimacy, they said they expect endorsement by the organization's membership at an annual meeting at the Y's Grand Avenue headquarters Monday.

"All of us feel with absolute confidence that, after Monday night, any questions will be moot," said longtime board member Arianna Barrios, who spearheaded the rebellion. "Obviously what happened [before] was an extreme move that had to be done to save the organization. What happens Monday night, on the other hand, is the normal process the organization has set up to elect its leadership."

First on the agenda: reaffirming the election of the new board's 14 existing and two newly nominated directors by the Y's membership, which has swelled from about 100 to 173 since the coup. The meeting, Barrios said, "will serve two purposes: to confirm what was done in March, and to broaden our leadership by adding more people to the mix."

Still unclear, however, is how other agencies will react.

Shortly after assuming control, the new administration sent letters to Y members claiming official recognition, not only by the state attorney general's office, but by the regional and national YWCA organizations, the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana and Tustin, the California Department of Social Services and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Steve Bauman, supervising investigative auditor for the attorney general, challenged that assertion and asked for documentation. "The office of the attorney general does not generally get involved in determining who is or isn't a legitimate board or board member," he wrote in a letter.

Andrew Roth, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Social Services, which licenses the YWCA as a child-care provider, echoed that position. "We agree with the attorney general," he said. "In terms of recognizing boards, we're not in that business."

Even Kay Kelley, manager of the YWCA's Pacific Region, said it appeared the Orange County organization jumped the gun.

Monday's membership vote may put any further questions to rest.

"They're having an election," Kelley said. "The way I understand it, this will finalize the process. The newly elected board will be the board of the YWCA."

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