Publisher’s note: Review Editor Jean Lotus is a member of the Historical Society board and was a participant in the events being reported on.
The Historical Society of Forest Park board of directors voted 4-to-3 Saturday to put all of their positions up for re-election at the October yearly membership meeting after a disagreement about whether the organization should be made up of only volunteers or continue to hire the services of an executive director.
Some members of the eight-member board called for President Box Cox’s resignation after “rogue” actions taken without the board’s consent.
Cox said he wanted to change the society to an all-volunteer organization because the society couldn’t afford to pay an executive director. Cox formerly served on the Proviso Township High School District 209 school board between 2007-2011. Cox was a member of the society’s first iteration in the 1970s.
At the end of August, Cox sent a registered letter to Diane Hansen Grah, the organization’s part-time executive director, saying her services were no longer needed. He also suspended programs for 30 days, and made an arrangement with a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student to volunteer in exchange for paying her fees in a professional organization. Cox also changed the password on the society’s online bank account at Forest Park National Bank and asked bank statements be sent to his home address instead of the Historical Society PO box.
Cox’s actions spurred an uproar among some board members who pointed out that hiring and dismissing staff were decisions of the entire board, not the president, according to the not-for-profit organization’s bylaws. Treasurer Jerry Lordan said he should have access to the bank statements.
Five members of the board met at an emergency meeting Sept. 6 and voted to reverse Cox’s actions. Cox and board members Herman Ziebell and Lawrence Broughton declined to attend that meeting.
At Saturday’s meeting, Cox told the board the society could not afford to pay Hansen Grah and predicted the society would be bankrupt in two years.
“I am a fiscal conservative,” Cox told the board. “I will not support deficit spending.”
Other board members championed Hansen Grah and said she was a money-maker who generated donations and program fees that covered her $650 monthly consultant fee while bringing in additional funds to the organization.
“We received $12,000 from St. Peter’s Lutheran church when the congregation disbanded,” said Lordan. “I believe the positive, mutually positive relationship between Diane and the members of the church was a significant factor in that gift.”
“Development is when you develop a relationship with donors who know and trust you,” Lordan added. “They see congruence between your personal values, their personal values and the institution you represent. Diane has brought that personal credibility to the historical society.”
The Historical Society currently has some $23,000 in total funds. In 2011, when the group reconstituted, the balance was $19,000.
Over the past two years, the society earmarked funds from several gifts to be put into a “building fund” saving to acquire a permanent location for the society. The total amount in that fund is $16,000. At issue is the society’s current operating balance now around $7,400.
Vice President Augie Aleksy argued Hansen Grah moved the society from a moribund collection of inaccessible artifacts to an active organization putting on monthly events, historical tours and opening a museum space. He praised her for fundraisers such as the Forestparkopoly game and the DesPlaines River Anthology book/dramatization. Aleksy has said these activities could not be done in an all-volunteer group.
Aleksy called for Cox’s resignation in an email, copied to current and previous board members.
“You have with your actions seriously split the board, delayed programs and stolen precious time from the society and those on the board who volunteer their time, interest, talent and enthusiasm,” Aleksy wrote to Cox.
“I strongly suggest you step down based on the poor leadership you have demonstrated, your deceit, your failure to fulfill your promises, your autocratic behavior and your violation of the constitution and by-laws of the historical society,” Aleksy continued.
At Saturday’s meeting, Cox said the board had hard choices to make.
The society discovered some unexpected insurance expenses that could eat into the organization’s finances. The village requires the society to buy workman’s comp insurance, which costs about $450 a year.
Cox also proposed the board acquire directors and operators insurance at a cost of between $700-800 per year.
A vote was held on whether board members should each pitch in $100 to cover the expense of the new insurance, but Cox and three other members voted it down.
“That doesn’t stop me from making my own donation [toward the additional insurance],” said Secretary Elizabeth Carpenter. One member, Lawrence Broughton, left the meeting for an excused absence before the vote.
The board agreed to hold off on voting to make the organization all-volunteer until December.
Board member Ernie Hines suggested putting the board to work creating a fundraiser that would bring in enough money to make the society viable.
He spoke out against the criticism of Cox.
“Bob has worked very hard for this historical society,” Hines said. “He deserves far better.”
Dissent on the board led to a motion, approved 4-to-3, that all board members would put themselves up for re-election at the upcoming open membership meeting October. Traditionally, board member voting is staggered every two years. New board members would also be welcome to apply at the meeting. All members who wish to vote must have paid current dues of $25/year.
The Historical Society October members meeting will be announced at a later date.
On Sunday Cox posted the following on the Historical Society of Forest Park Discussion Group: “Mission accomplished. Change is in the air for the HSFP.”
Cox did not return an email, phone call or text asking for a comment, but in early September when asked about his actions he said, “I make no comment and invoke the Whistleblower Protection Act.”