During a heated meeting Monday, a majority of the African/African-American Historical Society Museum members in attendance voted to oust the current board of directors, but the vote was declared null.
Pompia Durril, president of the board of directors, said they needed a majority of the entire membership, or 76 votes. Eighty-three people were present for Monday’s meeting and 64 voted for dissolving the current board. Nineteen voted against the measure.
“The motion failed,” Durril said as several people objected loudly.
The group had voted twice on the same issue with the same outcome, first with a show of hands and then by a written ballot.
At the heart of the matter was the treatment of Hana Stith, the museum’s co-founder.
According to the museum’s website, the museum was founded when Stith and Miles Edwards realized the Allen County Historical Museum in 1975 had not preserved African-American history and decided to do it themselves. The museum, 436 E. Douglas St., opened in February 2000.
Stith has been the director/curator and is well-known as a civil rights icon in the community.
Several in the audience, including her daughter, Robin Stith, said she had been treated disrespectfully at board meetings.
Robin Stith maintained that her mother was told to sit down and shut up at board meetings.
“They have too much control. The board needs to go,” she said.
Durril announced Feb. 4 that the society had hired professional historian John Aden to lead the museum and that Stith had retired effective Dec. 31. The next day, Stith fired back, saying she did not retire or resign but was fired by Durril on Dec. 28.
A petition signed by 61 Stith supporters in December asked for a special membership meeting to determine if the corporation should cease doing business; should remove the board of directors or certain directors for failure to maintain minutes and failure to authorize an expenditure of $4,500 for a consultant; and to decide if Stith’s termination should be rescinded.
After much discussion, the group voted to continue with the corporation and museum and to remove the board of directors, but in the third hour of the meeting, had yet to discuss or vote on Stith’s position.
Board member Joe Jordan said the idea of training the board in governance was his idea, but they had never voted to spend the $4,500 it would have required for the board retreat.
“We’re being accused of a lot and it’s important to me that we clear that,” Jordan said.
Four-year board member, Brigitte Brown, agreed.
“We never spent that $4,500,” she said.
Brown also handles the meeting minutes. She usually typed them up and then sent digital copies to board members, although she did not know if copies were available at the museum, she said.
“I have all the minutes since I started in 2011,” Brown said.
Several people in the audience said the problem is a matter of personality conflicts, which could result in the detriment of the museum.
Curt Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, who served two terms on the museum’s board, cautioned against reckless decisions and called for mediation.
“There’s been a lot of discussion and there’s a whole lot at stake,” Witcher said. “You could lose new membership, or your ability and right to tell your story. … We have a wonderful elder (Stith) and a respected community member (Durril) to facilitate (this museum).”