Monday, March 26, 2007

Hyde Park Herald takes aim at Dorothy Tillman

The Hyde Park Herald is doing a three part series. I suppose this is part one we are reading here. There are two stories about the losses of the Harold Washington Cultural Center and how Tillman and Lou Rawls had a falling out.

Let's take a look at these losses...

The most recent financial reports filed with state and federal officials by the non-profit organization Tobacco Road Inc., which manages the center, show it lost nearly twice as much money as it grossed in its first full year of operations. In recent months, the HWCC events calendar shows the state-of-the-art, 1,000-seat theater has been dark. Top-tier entertainment at the venue is rare, according to the center Web site. And events that help burnish Tillman legacy are routinely scheduled.

Private donations for the center, which totaled $2 million during the construction and fund-raising portions of the project, have all but dried up. A small but steady stream of public money continues to augment the HWCC operating budget, but the uncertain political future of the 3rd Ward could further jeopardize the center operational stability.
Ouch, not looking good for something that really should be an asset to a redeveloping neighborhood. Here's some more...


The financial outlook for the HWCC is shaky. In 2004, a cash crunch forced Tobacco Road to refinance one of its three mortgages to raise an additional $881,958 for operating and construction costs.

There are instances of apparent conflicts of interest involving current and former board members and management from the non-profit organization that oversees the HWCC.

Appearances of possible self dealing conduct by key management at the HWCC, which the Internal Revenue Service defines as financial transactions between a non-profit and virtually all persons closely related to the organization.
Another question that comes up is who's actually working at this cultural center. This place is a hotbed for nepotism...

Jimalita Tillman, one of three daughters of Dorothy Tillman, is Tobacco Road executive director. State and IRS records obtained by the Lakefront Outlook show Jimalita Tillman is paid $45,000 annually for 30 hours of weekly work for the organization.

Current and former members of the Tobacco Road board ?the body that is supposed to oversee Jimalita Tillman work include her brother Bemaji Tillman; Otis Clay, a Chicago musician and long time friend of Dorothy Tillman; Robin Brown, Dorothy Tillma former chief of staff; Brenda Ramsey, a campaign contributor to Tillman 3rd Ward Democratic Organization; and Terrence Bell, a financial contributor to Tillman campaigns.

Ald. Tillman did not respond to repeated requests by the Lakefront Outlook to discuss Tobacco Road board and management composition. Jimalita Tillman did not respond to requests for an interview or to written questions about the HWCC and Tobacco Road delivered to the cultural center.
They spoke to a Tim Walter who said that having family members run a non-profit can be problematic...

Tim Walter, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Small Foundations, said empanelling a non-profit entity oversight board with persons who share family ties and have friend-based loyalties can be problematic to the effective leadership and management of a non-profit entity.

"You want to avoid situations where a non-profit actions could trigger even the appearance of a conflict of interest," Walter said. "I think that one of the keys in running a small and successful non-profit."
There's a lot more information here that I had intended to put here perhaps I'll leave the other story for another post perhaps today or maybe tomorrow. But I want to share the comparisons made for this center with Newark, New Jersey...

Grams said a comparable example of a similar facility maximizing its potential to the community is the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts (NJCPA), in Newark, N.J., which turned a $1.1 million profit during its first year in operation in 1999. They were programming and earning $10 million in ticket sales in the first year they opened and have maintained that level since then, Grams said. This was done in part through building networks of advisory committees in both corporate and religious sectors of Newark.

Like the HWCC, the NJCPA was also built almost entirely with public funds, and like the HWCC, it is also run as a non-profit organization. Both organizations are overseen by a board of directors. And the concept of using public money to fund both of these privately run non-profit groups is also similar.

Mayor Richard M. Daley said at the HWCC 2004 opening that the facility would Showcase what Chicago all about?and that residents from all walks of life will now be able to understand how important education is in arts and culture not only to the African-American community but to our city, our nation and the world.

Like Bronzeville, Newark population is predominately African-American. The city has been burdened, like Bronzeville, by urban decay and disinvestment. And, as is the hope in the heart of Bronzeville, revitalization characterizes Newark more recent history.

One of the goals in building the NJCPA was to help repair the city social fabric, ravaged by some of the worst 1960s race riots, said Lawrence Goldman, the NJCPA president. Creating a diverse programming schedule that appealed not only to Newark residents but also to the metropolitan area diverse population has been key in the center success.

NJCPA commitment to bringing diverse communities together is in our DNA, said Goldman. There is scarcely a major decision that impacts the arts center that is not looked at without understanding its effect on our diversity mission.

The Newark center December programming calendar reflects this commitment to diversity. NJCPA has scheduled events for 26 of December 31 days its artists performing gospel, soul, baroque, hip-hop, doo wop, classical music and a touring production of the Broadway play The Producers.

Some of the HWCC events, Tillman's political opponents allege, were staged to help boost the alderman's popularity. The alderman, who was appointed by Mayor Washington in 1983, is up for re-election in February 2007.

Uh-oh this opens up Ald. Tillman to more charges of using the center to make her self look good. Or at least ego boosting events where the Alderman and her daughters were honored as living legends and another where Tillman was the guest speaker. And it leads to this...

Some of the events held since the opening of the HWCC may also have violated federal non-profit tax law, said senior partner at Chicago-based Quarles & Brady LLP Janice Rodgers, a nationally-known charitable organization attorney.

In order for an organization to maintain a non-profit tax status, the IRS prohibits persons affiliated with a non-profit group and their relatives from conducting financial or in-kind transactions that profit a non-profit group senior management or members of its board of directors.

In addition to her duties at the HWCC, Jimalita Tillman also owns and operates the Spoken Word Cafe located directly north of the HWCC. Promotional material for the HWCC obtained by the Lakefront Outlook indicated that Spoken Word provides catering for HWCC events. That is potentially a violation of federal tax law, said Rodgers.

That is something that could trigger some scrutiny by the IRS, Rodgers said.
You know this doesn't look particularly good. They (her opponents and probably her informed constituents) get her on how she uses her money in her ward and her controversial legislation one of which happens to be a reparations ordinance and other things (man I wish I can share with you what she said about CTA Board Chairman Carole Brown). Anyway I would be shocked if she lost but these are points worth looking at.

Is Dorothy Tillman using this facility to benefit herself instead of the 3rd Ward of Chicago?

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