by Beryl Gorbman
Note: I would deeply appreciate it if anyone who cares to forward this article or quote from it resist changing any of the original language, EVEN THE TITLES. You know who you are. Please attribute the content appropriately.
More about the Merida English Library
The following information is factual or assumed to be factual by people other than me. None of the statements reflect my opinion about anything. The data comes from interviews with people close to the situation. If anyone disagrees or wants to add or deny information in this article, please write a comment at the end of the article. If you feel strongly about it, I will interview you and post your comments as an article. I will give you the right to review what I write before publishing it, so you can make sure you are fairly represented.
First I will list some facts people have been inquiring about. There is more detail in the later text.
- No one who has ever worked for pay for the library has been a legal employee (except for the janitor). No IMSS, no payroll taxes, no records whatsoever. Workers were authorized by the Board to work informally, even though some of them were foreigners without the proper immigration status to work in Mexico. None (including the coordinator, Maria Hernandez) were given IMSS coverage or had payroll taxes deducted, as required by law.
- Yes, MELL is registered with Hacienda (Mexican version of the IRS), but probably not at the level required to legally receive donations or contributions other than membership dues. (This is easy to check at Hacienda.) They are a legal non-profit (Civil Association) but proceeds from events are simply stored as cash and it is this cash pool that has paid “employees.” No checks, no records.
- Members of the library have absolutely no legal power to remove or change board members. According to Mexican law, the board members are trustees for life, unless they resign, are fired by other board members with cause to be removed, or die.
- Day-to-day powers currently rest with three board members who are officers, according to Mexican law. At present these are Chloe Pacheco, President, Surratt Williams, Secretary, and Carlos Arias, treasurer.
- Ex-President Jose Martinez (who stole a great deal of money from MELL) told the board he offered to resign. He confessed to some volunteers and then he met with some board members and confessed to them. It is unclear whether the board accepted his resignation or terminated him.
- The board has complete control over the library. They can sell the building and the books. The proceeds would probably go to Hacienda.
- There is a strong, but unsubstantiated rumor that the board has hired a new coordinator, perhaps as an interim measure. That person is Reg Deneau.
- MELL did not file an annual report, as required by Hacienda, for a number of years.
- Recently, the board asked the Coordinator (Maria Hernandez) to resign. For unexplained reasons, they did not like her. She refused. They offered her increasing amounts of money to resign, but she still refused so they fired her. Maria’s family has hired an attorney.
- Some of the board members have been behaving unprofessionally. The board at this point does not seem concerned with the good of the library but rather has become insular and vindictive. They have ended any attendance privileges or participation by members.
Laws regarding non-profits are quite different in Mexico than those in the USA. It is not productive to get indignant about why things are or are not done in certain ways because that’s how they are done in the USA. It is best to educate yourselves on what is and isn’t legal here in Mexico.
The library has been careless in disregarding Mexican law. The social gatherings, Chili event, etc. are clearly fundraisers, which the library is not allowed to hold under their current status with Hacienda.
If detailed investigations are made into MELL it is possible that Hacienda may levy taxes or fines on it. It is the board’s responsibility to keep the operation legal, but a number of members and volunteers knew they were operating below the legal horizon.
Jose Martinez admitted to having stolen about 250,000 pesos, but in truth the amount may be closer to 450,000. He has committed to paying back 250,000 pesos. I don’t know whether the money has actually been returned to MELL yet.
Many of you have asked why Jose Martinez’ theft was not reported to the police. The answer is complex and involves MELL’s having been out of compliance in the first place, and also the enormous costs of prosecution of a case of this kind.
When Jose Martinez became the board president in 2009, he proposed and the board accepted his suggestion that the constitution be changed to allow him to sign checks without a second signatory. Previously, two signatures had been required on checks. Many people wonder why the board did not begin to suspect something was amiss at that point.
Generally, the board was hesitant to confront Jose Martinez about the missing money, and in fact never did. He confessed to several of the volunteers. The theory is that board members were operating in their own self interests because Jose’s family is one of the most influential in the city, and their affiliation with him may have benefitted their personal goals in one form or another.
Reg Deneau may have originally left the library from his job as coordinator because he knew about the thefts but was pressured not to reveal them. This is speculation.
Maria Hernandez was hired to take Reg’s place. She is Mexican-American, has a master’s degree in library science, and is bilingual. She fit well into the community, brought fresh ideas, and was implementing some much-need organization when she was fired. When she was fired, all of the volunteers walked out of MELL in protest.
The board changed all the locks on the building and it is and continues to be locked down. All activities have been suspended.
Here is more detailed information about the Board of Directors of MELL.
A board member in Mexico, a trustee, is not expected to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the non-profit, and it has been noted that indeed most of MELL’s trustees never entered the library at all.
The MELL board was formed about 15 years ago.
As mentioned above, only the president, secretary and treasurer are primarily responsible for the operations of the library. These are the three people likely to be targeted for punitive action by Hacienda, should such a thing take place.
The other board members are associates. As mentioned, a board member serves for life. The board removed Jose Martinez from his office for cause. There is some question as to whether he resigned or was fired by other board members. The reason this is not know is that the meetings are secret.
At one point, the board accepted the presence at their meetings of some representatives from the volunteers and membership, indicating that they would accept one or more of them as board members at some point. This never happened, relationships deteriorated, and the member advisory committee was excluded from the board meetings.
Any time a board member is added, terminated or replaced, the board is required to hold a formal meeting called an asamblea (assembly) which is officially recorded with specific corporation papers, and submitted to Hacienda.
Unless there has been an official assembly, with signed papers submitted to Hacienda, the change of personnel does not legally exist.
In 2008, some new people were brought on as associate board members. Some have since quit, but since the process was not formalized with an assembly and required Hacienda paperwork, some are still officially on the board. These people included Grant Spradling, Roberto Guzman, Malena Peon, George Fisher and Tonia Kimsey and “some other Yucatecans.” Roberto Guzman, George Fisher and Grant Spradling have since resigned, but the resignations were not officially recorded until quite recently. Two other board members, Anibal Gomez and Monica Hernandez, (probably the “some other Yucatecans”) were brought onto the board, but there was no formal assembly or filing of required paperwork, so they are not legal board members.
Raymond Branhan is also a board member.
Jose Martinez needed to summon an assembly to remove himself from the board. Only the president can do this. This assembly took place and we think that Grant and Roberto were removed at the same time as Jose Martinez. Tonia Kimsley was ratified but Malena Peon was not since she is the spouse of Jose Martinez. The other two Yucatecans who had been nominated also were not ratified. George Fisher’s status is unclear.
The current associates and members are Chloe Pacheco, Tonia Kimsley, Mitch Keenan, Surratt Williams, Carlos Arias and Raymond Branhan.
All of these changes have been done in secret. The membership does not know whether some of the papers have been filed with Hacienda, but this is public information and an attorney is looking into this.
This is not an editorial piece so I will not wax on about the massive loss to the expat community that this represents.
Please forgive formatting anomalies. Microsoft Word and WordPress are not made for each other.