Serbian Museum: Public Concerned
Explanation of the Goals of the concerned members of the Serbian Diaspora and SAMS regarding the recent history of events in the conduct of the Board of Directors at SAMS:
We are members of the Serbian Diaspora concerned about recent events at the Serbian American Museum St Sava, founded by one of the most prominent members of our Diaspora, Dr Slobodan Draskovic. Some of us knew Dr Draskovic personally and some of us have family members that were Dr .Draskovic’s friends and contributors in purchasing the house at 448 W Barry, once called the DOM.
In the past, all who were involved in the organizational activities know that the ultimate goal and mission was to save the house at 448 W Barry, since the home represents much more than brick walls; it represents the history of our early immigrants to American, their way of life, their generosity to other immigrants, and their intellectual curiosity and education.
Unfortunately, SAMS financial position has become unsustainable, and the majority of members voted to sell the property at 448 W Barry.
We will lay out our concerns regarding the suspicious governance of the organization over the past several years, and it will be clear to all why we are united in our goal as members to ensure that the proceeds of the sale of the building are protected. We propose that our Serbian Orthodox Diocese, along with prominent leaders of the Serbian American community become direct legal decision-makers (after the transformation of the organization) in how best to use the proceeds of the sale, since the Barry building is a historic legacy of the entire Serbian Orthodox community, not just the present membership of this organization. We don’t believe that SAMS can continue its existence without serious transformation, and that that transformation has to be in cooperation with our Serbian Orthodox Diocese, along with prominent leaders of the Serbian American Community.
Two years ago, it became obvious that SAMS had very serious financial problems. At the 2014 SAMS Congress members wanted to ensure that if organization found itself in the unfortunate situation where there was no other choice but to sell the building, a process would be clearly specified in the Bylaws in order to protect the house and proceeds from any potential conflicts of interest or other suspicious dealings. This amendment was accepted UNANIMOUSLY but never incorporated into the bylaws by the current Board.
Below is a high level summary of specific violations and concerns of the membership with respect to the Board activities: (For more detail: see addendum)
1. Despite the formation of an Advisory Board to oversee the process of the sale, the Board implemented its own wishes with the designation of Vesna Noble-(Secretary of the Board) as the listing agent representing the sale of the property despite members’ outrage of impropriety and potential for conflict of interest.
2. Suspicions regarding the voting process: On November 15, 2014, while comprised of only four members, the Board elected approximately forty-six new members, per official report “among them, personal friends of the President”
3. Unwillingness to provide SAMS members access to its complete books and records.
4. Initial refusal to share the complete offers with members in a timely manner. Ultimately, the secretary did share the offers, however, they were heavily redacted, incomplete, missing pages, and sent after an unofficial vote was already executed. Members have requested the unredacted offers through legal representation. This has not been provided, despite expiration of the deadline.
5. Request by members to share the listing agreement designating Vesna Noble so that members can understand the listing agent terms. This request not fullfilled. Ultimately, it has been requested through legal representation, and yet these documents have not been provided despite the expiration of the deadline.
6. The board engaged in activities and or transactions that could jeopardize the non for profit organization that could impact not only the „museum status“ but also incur fines and unpredictable tax consequences.
7. Allowed improper use of museum premises as housing for their relatives/friends jeopardizing the non for profit status and potentially personally profiting financially. (Documented with Official Court documents)
8. Board President misinformed the membership as well as His Grace Vladika Longin that any future activities of the Board would be transparent and namely that the sale of the property would be placed with a highly-regarded commercial real estate brokerage which has no pre-existing fiduciary relationship to the organization. President also proposed the same thing in email to the membership a month earlier but nothing changed.
This Board was reelected at June 2015 Congress, where the present members (around 20) were informed that there were now more than 100 paid members for that year (however, only 31 paid per Treasure report), and a few dozen proxies were brought to that Congress. The size of the Membership changed dramatically in one year. Yet, despite this new size, there was little presence at the meetings. This leads to suspicion around the purpose of these new members. See below details:
1. The October 18, 2015 “brain storming meeting” to discuss options for the future of the Museum, was attended by only 13 members.
2. At the special meeting held on December 6 2015 (in a meeting invite, it was stated that this meeting is very important, where a historical decision needs to be made) only 15 members (including 5 Board members) were in attendance.
3. The process of the sale is not our only concern regarding the functioning of SAMS. A couple months ago, many controversial questions were shared among the Membership via email. In his letter to the membership (mentioned above, from July 17), President Pavlovic clearly stated that he will be the first one to call for responsibility if it is found that there were any financial misuse of the Museum. More than a month later, we are not aware that he did any investigation regarding this matter.
4. Under Illinois non for profit law, a member has the right to review books and records. These were requested and ignored by the Board leaving us no choice but to hire a lawyer to officially request access to the organizations book and records. It’s been over 14 days since that request was sent, and yet despite legal intervention, this Board has yet to provide transparency to the books and records. We also want to review all membership applications for 2014, 2015, 2016, since we are suspicious that many of new members were never in attendance at any SAMS Membership meeting.
This fact speaks for itself:
The majority of the current membership (62 paid members in 2016), who had the legal power to decide on the future of the organizations, are new members, 2 years or less!
We urge for an independent investigation and audit to make sure the sale of the museum building is being done transparently and in the best interests of the Serbian Diaspora. We don’t believe that SAMS can continue its existence without serious transformation, and that that transformation has to be in cooperation with our Serbian Orthodox Diocese, along with prominent leaders of the Serbian American Community.
We wish to thank His Grace Bishop Longin for his diplomacy and support regarding these matters.
We are appealing to our Mother Church and to all Serbian organizations to unite in this goal to ensure that the sale is conducted transparently and that it is solved through diplomacy and dialog with the Serbian community and not in court.