The current leadership at the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse said conflict between the current board and previous executive director came about after the board’s appointed treasurer began asking questions about the organization’s finances.
Rob Burrows, the treasurer for the Ivanhoe Artists Mosaic, said he began asking questions about the finances of the organization after being appointed as the treasurer of the organization last April.
“I needed to see all of the paperwork,” said Burrows, who wanted to do an audit of the organization’s finances.
Burrows was provided an account sheet, according to an email sent by the organization to Christine Conforti, executive director of the organization. The email sent to Conforti in August reads, “You have not shown all grants, contracts, nor insurance policies.”
Burrows said the organization’s finances were to be handled by the treasurer with oversight from the organization’s president as stated in the bylaws. “Bylaws say executive director can’t handle the money,” said Burrows.
Questions over finance, said Burrows, led Conforti to question the legitimacy of his appointment. When he asked for more documents, she declined to provide them. “She just totally refused,” said Burrows.
“I remember walking into a meeting, and they were grilling her for some financials or something like that, subsequently she turned over all the bank records over to them,” recalled Richard Boale, an artists, who left after the board excommunicated Conforti. “It was almost like she was on trial.”
The finance issue began in mid-June, according to a timeline provided by the organization. The issue continued into late July, when Conforti gathered a group of members and held a meeting inside the building.
During that meeting Jim Reilly, president of the organization; Ken Wallo, secretary and minute keeper; and Burrows, were described as individuals that did not have valid membership with the organization.
As the two sides exchanged words a framed picture of a American Civil War stamp was spotted on the wall. The image showed two soldiers sparring with opposing flags — confederate and union– in the background.
Burrows explained that the frame was on the wall to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the civil war. “We became part of the 150th anniversary of the civil war and Paterson was very very important and the Ivanhoe held a key position in that. They lost a lot of people that worked at the Ivanhoe who died in the Civil War. The Irish Company was very famous in Antietam,” said Burrows. “Lincoln made the Ivanhoe paper the official paper for all the money that was produced by the United States at that time that lasted until 1873.”
Conforti and Robyn Thompson, an artist, began spreading rumors that the organization was racist, said Burrows. “Immediately Robyn started talking about that we were some bunch of racist guys,” said Burrows.
Thompson, who was the sole testifier at the city council’s hearing on the matter two weeks ago, said she was offended at the image.
“Out of consideration we did take the picture down,” said Burrows. “We used that on some of the paper works.”
Thompson provided a flyer that was issued by the organization that bore the split flag, half union and half confederate.
“It wasn’t a flag hanging outside, it was a picture,” said Joel Lopez, an artist, who supports Conforti. “That has blown out of proportion, and that’s not true as far as a confederate flag was hanging outside.”
After words of the flag got out the organization became the target of an attack. “I was leaving the Ivanhoe locking up, a car came down Spruce Street, with two guys screaming, ‘bunch of racist,’” said Burrows, “they threw a full cups of ice, it missed me.”
Burrows said it hit a woman who was nearby, and she had to be transported to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center. The woman, said Reilly, the organization’s president, did not file a police report, because she did not want to get involved.
After that incident the organization’s board: Reilly, Wallo, and Burrows, kicked Conforti out of the organization. Wallo, who preserved minutes for that meeting, said the board “unanimously” voted to get rid of Conforti.
“The members did not approve of the takeover. I submitted over 20 signed affidavits of members of the Ivanhoe stating that they voted to dissolve this board,” said Thompson.
Along the way locks were changed. “The key was changed because we found out people were stealing out of the place,” said Reilly. He dispute the siege takeover of the building saying, “There’s no way we walk in there and lock the place down.”
A large group of members from the organization defied the board and voted Conforti back in, an action that the current leadership does not recognize because such conduct, they say, is not allowed by the bylaws. “We got like 20 something or 30 something votes to make Christine executive director again,” said Lopez.
Since then both parties have been involved in a drawn out dispute, each saying the other is illegitimate.
The hearing before the council two weeks ago only revealed one side’s story. “I wasn’t even given a notice by the city this thing was going on and I’m the president of the organization,” deplored Reilly. “I just really don’t understand why we were never informed as the people who are running this organization that this meeting was going on and being judged against us.”
Reilly showed a letter that was sent to the city council and the mayor’s office stating Conforti was removed from the organization.
After locks were changed a key was also sent to the Department of Public Works, said Reilly.
Conforti said she could not comment on the situation because the matter is before the judiciary.