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The Ravenswood Chamber: An Organization in Disarray

By Mike Fourcher | Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Editor’s Note: Center Square Journal continues its coverage of the dissolution of the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. This article documents the recent months of chamber events and how board members and officers have turned over, leaving confusion in the leadership. Read our other article, when we more closely review the chamber’s tangle of financial problems.

The Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce office at 1756 W. Wilson Ave. Photo by Mike Fourcher

In August, Patricia Martinelli took over as acting executive director of the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. Until three weeks ago, she thought she could pull the chamber out of its financial hole.

The IRS filed two federal tax liens against the chamber this year, one in January and another in May.

“We had turned a corner,” Martinelli said. ”We had worked out an agreement with the IRS. We started making payments in September for the back taxes.”

But then the bottom fell out.

“Another lien filed in November by the state [Department of Revenue],” said Martinelli. “Right after that, we got word that [recently resigned executive director] Tom Kamykowski was filing an $11,000 suit.”

Kamykowski filed an $11,000 lost wages claim in December. The Chamber missed the deadline to contest his claim.

The Ravenswood Chamber’s problems appear to stem from a history of poor record keeping, a lack of a firm hand on the books and overall confusion of who was in charge.

Two Treasurers

As part of an effort to rejuvenate a stagnating organization, in late 2009 almost the entire board of directors for the Ravenswood Chamber voluntarily turned over. However, documents show the new board members didn’t clearly establish who had the financial powers of treasurer.

Documents submitted to the Chicago Department of Community Development in December 2009 by then-executive director Kamykowski, list nine board members, including Eric Olszewski as treasurer. However, Jim J. McHale told Center Square Journal on Dec. 23 that he signed the payroll checks for Kamykowski up until August 2010.

Olszewski had been publicly documented as the Chamber’s treasurer, according to a disclosure form filed with the Chicago Department of Community Development dated March 3, 2010.

The last public document to list McHale as treasurer was the Chamber’s 2008 Form 990, the non-profit version of a federal tax return. This document can be viewed at the bottom of this article.

“Tom [Kamykowski] basically ran the meetings,” said former Chamber board president Seth Boustead last week. “Tom would tell us what was going on. He was running everything. The checks were being signed by this McHale guy. As far as having bylaws and understanding fiscal propriety, there was no discussion of that.”

Attorney Bill Broderick, of the firm Mayfield Broderick, has extensive experience with business law, but is not involved in this case. He said similar organizations have a committee structure for voting on an expenditure, and it is typical for the treasurer to sign a check. Or the treasurer might prepare a check and the president would have signing authority.

Broderick said it depends on the bylaws, though. Center Square Journal requested a copy of the Chamber’s bylaws, but Martinelli said they were not available. There is one copy, written on a typewriter when they were last updated in 1985.

Missing Records

Boustead was Chamber board president from August 2010 until he resigned in recent months. He said the organization did not have a complete accounting of the Chamber’s finances.

Martinelli said she has asked McHale to turn over his financial records but McHale says he does not have any.

“I have no records with me,” said McHale. “They are all with Tom (Kamykowski).”

McHale said he never kept financial records for the Chamber. That was the responsibility of Kamykowski and an outside bookkeeper, Erik Godvik & Associates.

“All I can tell you is that I signed the checks that he (Kamykowski) presented me,” said McHale.

Godvik, Kamykowski and Olszewski have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

“We didn’t have a treasurer, there were no financial reports, no QuickBooks,” said Boustead. “Tom didn’t have a computer. As far as I know, there were no books.”

McHale said he does not know why the Chamber was slapped with three tax liens this year.

“I don’t understand it at all. I was told there was a lien placed against them, and I didn’t know what they were for.”

McHale said he rarely attended board meetings and then was asked to leave.

“People said that I could no longer be treasurer because I was no longer coming to meetings,” said McHale.

Leadership Changes

After the second federal tax lien was placed on the Chamber in May 2010, a group of board members made a move to push Kamykowski out.

“In May there was a movement to oust Tom, but some board members resisted,” says Martinelli. “[The board] started having a lot of board meetings in June and July.”

Then, in July, board president David Ochab announced his resignation, but not before the Chicago Department of Community Development—the Chamber’s chief source of funding—suggested he first consider his fiduciary responsibility.

When Ochab announced his resignation, Community Development suggested “that it might be helpful that the Chamber reach out to [legal counsel] to understand the legal obligations of non-profit board members,” said Department of Community Development spokeswoman Susan Massel.

When contacted by Center Square Journal this week, Ochab declined to comment.

On August 6, the board voted “no confidence” on Kamykowski and removed him as executive director. Martinelli volunteered to step down from the board and become acting executive director for no pay. Boustead was installed as board president.

Board Vice President Vince Savarino also resigned, with only a letter that reportedly read, “I hereby resign from the board.”

Savarino has not responded to requests for comment.

Following the August reorganization, Martinelli and Boustead had renewed hope. The Chamber participated in the August 24 Chase Park playground reopening ceremony.

They sent a letter on October 12 calling for member dues and announced the Chamber’s annual tree lighting ceremony on December 1. This letter is posted at the end of this article.

Boustead said not every member could be contacted because the new organization didn’t have a complete list of Chamber members.

“When Tom left, he took the whole Chamber contact list with him, so we haven’t been able to contact the members,” says Boustead. Martinelli confirmed.

But of the nine people listed as board members in the Department of Community Development forms filed in March, seven had resigned by October 2010.

Board officers president Ochab, treasurer Olszewski and vice president Savarino all resigned. Three other board members have left: Stephanie Spiegel, Letticia Flores and Gary Hougen.

Remaining board members included newly-installed president Boustead and Byron Kouris, who was listed in December 2009 as “Chairman of the Board (Retired)”.

In November the Chamber was slapped with the third tax lien, then the $11,000 lost wages claim from Kamykowski in December. Boustead resigned from the board soon after.

It is currently unclear who is on the Chamber’s board and who is responsible.

10-12-10 Ravenswood Chamber Letter

Ravenswood Chamber Disclosure Form

2008 Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce IRS 990 Form

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