by Manny Otiko, San Francisco Bay View
The Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, located in the Fillmore District on Presidio Avenue, is suffering from mismanagement, negligent governance and rampant corner-cutting, according to recent allegations made by a board member.
The center was created during World War I as a gathering place for African American soldiers. Back then, it was called the Victory Club. After the war ended, the center closed down but reopened in 1920 under its current name.
Now the center has grown to become a popular and treasured anchor in the social life in the neighborhood with its community center, gymnasium, recording studio and a childcare center. It also provides housing for youth transitioning from foster care.
The accusations are coming from board member Julian Davis. Davis said he was purportedly removed from the board under questionable circumstances at the end of April after he began to raise concerns about wrongdoings at the center, both unethical and unlawful, and some of his colleagues’ blatant disregard for standard operating procedures.
He has also accused some board members of improper behavior, such as ignoring conflicts of interest, financial mismanagement, lack of transparency, and proposing insider transactions to hire personnel at inflated rates.
Other allegations include failure to keep proper records of board meetings and refusal to provide video evidence of a meeting in question. According to Davis, board members failed to follow proper procedures in attempting to remove him from the board in retaliation for his insistence on good governance and fiduciary oversight.
Davis said his improper removal is merely a symptom of a larger disease of negligent and self-interested governance that threatens significant inflows of charitable funds. He has yet to receive a copy of the video recording.
Davis added that these problems did not happen overnight. He had been noticing them and raising concerns internally as early as 2018. He said it got to the point where they could no longer be ignored.
“No one witnessing such lawlessness should tolerate it. By coming forward, I continue to encourage accountability, transparency and good governance with respect to substantial public funds,” said Davis.
Many of the allegations Davis is making are spelled out in a letter drafted by Karl F. Mill, an attorney who is representing Davis. In his letter, Mill cites examples of board members overstepping boundaries, engaging in improper hiring practices and other actions involving conflicts of interests.
“As Mr. Davis’ letters indicate, he has witnessed a culture of governance at the center that has led to the repeated disregard, flaunting and violation of each of these duties by certain directors, particularly those with the greatest influence,” said Mill. “According to Mr. Davis, a review of the Center’s records (and, for many years, the lack thereof) would show numerous examples of negligence, disregard of bylaws and procedures, and a willingness to entertain insider transactions by certain leaders of the center that are entirely inconsistent with the law and best practices.”
Davis said it is unfortunate that the center is suffering from poor management, especially because it is named after a civil rights leader who promoted Black self-sufficiency.
“Booker T. Washington’s philosophy was one that affirmed the importance of professional expertise and technical ability for the advancement of people of color in the United States and throughout the world. It is this legacy that a community center in his name ought to honor and champion,” he said.
He says his goal is to make sure the center’s management is doing the right thing.
“My goal is accountability and good governance,” he said.
The board president didn’t respond to the San Francisco Bay View’s request for comment before this story’s deadline. We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.