HIGH NOON IS fast approaching in the ongoing face-off between the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and its parent, the American Civil Liberties Union. Last weekend, a majority of the MCLU's board of directors voted to send a five-person delegation to New York this month to stop the ACLU from declaring most of the MCLU's board null and void. An investigation by the ACLU has determined that the MCLU's bylaws have violated Minnesota nonprofit laws for more than 10 years, rendering most of the current board invalid.
The investigation was touched off by an explosive MCLU board of directors meeting last year that suddenly increased the size of the board. Board members objecting to the action charged that the MCLU illegally expanded its board as a means of restoring power to controversial founder Matt Stark. The complaints created enough concern on the national level that the ACLU sent Associate Director Barry Steinhardt to Minneapolis last June on a fact-finding mission. In addition, the ACLU retained local attorney J. Patrick Plunkett to review Minnesota nonprofit law to determine whether the MCLU board elections were in compliance. Plunkett's opinion: The procedures did violate state nonprofit law, and had done so as far back as 1986. "[Plunkett's opinion] plainly has significant implications regarding the current composition of the MCLU Board and suggests that the new members have not been properly seated on the Board," Steinhardt stated in an August letter to Stark and MCLU president Jules Beck.
Last month, ACLU president Nadine Strossen wrote to Beck and Stark advising them that Plunkett will also determine which members of the board may have been improperly elected. Beck, Stark, and others continue to maintain that the MCLU's board-related actions have been entirely legal. Dissident members Ron DeHarpporte, Mark Anfinson, and Robert Sykora, who supported the ACLU's involvement in the matter, want new board elections held and voted upon by the entire membership. Instead, Stark and his supporters are seeking local counsel to evaluate the ACLU's opinion.
In the meantime, the beleaguered organization has been forced to borrow money on at least one occasion just to meet payroll, and some board members acknowledged that the MCLU has been compelled to trim its budget as fundraising efforts so far this year have produced little income. Executive Director Chuck Samuelson refused to comment on the ongoing troubles with the ACLU, which also declined comment until the matter is resolved.
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