Although denying that it was bowing to community pressure, Plaza de la Raza's board of directors has voted in emergency session to convene a meeting of its general membership within 60 days.
The board's vote came in the wake of picketing last week by a group of Latino parents and artists who were protesting the dismissal of two Plaza de la Raza employees and expressing their dissatisfaction with the way the cultural center is being run. Among their complaints was that the board had violated its charter by failing to hold a membership meeting in the past two years.
The protesters, who call themselves the Committee to Save Plaza de la Raza, claimed credit for the board's decision Monday to call a membership meeting on an as-yet-unspecified date.
"I believe our action had merit; otherwise they wouldn't be responding to it," said Severo Perez, a committee member and film instructor at Plaza de la Raza. "Their refusal to hold board meetings was an arrogant disregard of the community and now they are begrudgingly accepting that they were wrong."
Plaza officials acknowledged that they were required to hold an annual meeting for their 200 dues-paying members to vote on bylaws amendments and elect new board members, but denied that they had violated their bylaws, cowered to the committee's demands or distanced themselves from the Latino community.
"I know it (the board's action) gives the appearance that we are giving in to pressure," said Alida Amabile, Plaza's executive director. But she insisted that Plaza's directors were merely acting on the advice of legal counsel.
Roland Hernandez, an attorney who was appointed Monday to the newly created post of board president, said he had explained to the board the legal ramifications of not holding a membership meeting this year--namely, that the members could petition a judge to compel Plaza to honor its bylaws.
"It's clear that several board members were not informed of the legal ramifications associated with not setting a (meeting) date," said Hernandez, whose appointment must be ratified by the voting members. "When the members were apprised of the legal implications (on Monday), they immediately voted to set a date."
But while Plaza members were glad that a meeting would finally take place, some, such as attorney John Huerta, expressed doubt about Hernandez's explanation.
Huerta, associate counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he believes that Plaza's directors were aware of the legal requirements last year when they postponed a membership meeting due to a controversy that erupted over a proposed bylaws amendment to strip the membership of its voting rights.
Amabile insisted that the proposed amendment was needed, arguing that the organization cannot meet the growing challenge of funding the art classes, exhibitions and performing-arts programs it oversees without overhauling what she described as its antiquated membership structure.
Hernandez said that, according to Plaza bylaws and the California code governing nonprofit groups, an annual meeting may be postponed when the board of directors is deadlocked on an issue that prevents them from agreeing on a calendar date. He said he believes that the dispute over the board's proposed bylaws amendment resulted in such a deadlock.
However, former Plaza director and board secretary Helen Hernandez said that the board was never deadlocked. The proposal to amend the bylaws was approved by the board in an 8-to-4 vote, she said, and there was nothing to prevent the board from submitting it to the membership except the fear of a divisive session.