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Transparency needed at TCH

The Community House owes absolute transparency to the community and should answer some important questions that have been lingering for years.


It should publish on the organization's website its bylaws, financial statements, tax returns and audit reports for both The Community House Association (the operating unit) and The Community House Foundation (the fundraising unit). In addition, it should be transparent about the use of funds donated for specific purposes. For example, in a recent column in this publication, CEO William Seklar appealed for donations to the organization's Restoration and Preservation Fund. Donors and the community have a right to know how that fund is legally established and that donations to it are properly segregated and used for the purposes intended.


While The Community House has a history of positive contributions, changes under Mr. Seklar’s nearly decade-long leadership have raised concerns that must be addressed. Transparency and the willingness to answer questions may quell concerns, for example, about the organization's tax-exempt status. By its own estimate, The Community House building is worth at least $8 million. The city, county and schools are foregoing significant tax revenue on that property. What are they getting in return? Mr. Seklar says the organization is "filling critical gaps and voids in the community." How? Does the Early Childhood Education program offer scholarships? How many and to whom? How does its hospitality business, which competes with tax-paying private entities, fill critical gaps and contribute to the organization's mission any more than its for-profit competitors? Why were programs slashed after Mr. Seklar took over? How much compensation is taken by Mr. Seklar and his relatives, and how do the boards justify it and the apparent nepotism?


The Community House should fulfill its charitable mission transparently and effectively. "Our founders called us to a higher standard, a higher calling," Mr. Seklar has written here. "We rise to that call every day." He and his hand-picked boards – who in the grand scheme are only temporary occupants of a house that will always belong to the community – need to rise to the call for transparency.


I urge Mr. Seklar and the boards to engage in open dialogue with the community to address these concerns and restore confidence in the organization’s leadership. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then a change in leadership is in order to insure that The Community House truly serves the best interests of the community.


Clinton Baller

Birmingham


(Clinton Baller is a Birmingham City Commissioner. The views expressed here are his own.)

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