Benton Harbor Parks Conservancy faces uncertain future

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The Benton Harbor Parks and Recreation Conservancy met for an hour Tuesday and was unable to take any action.

This was because the conservancy was one person shy of a quorum.

The conservancy, which has been without a president since June 2016, met for its annual meeting for all members to elect new officials. But because there weren’t enough members present, the ones who made it to Tuesday’s meeting spent their time discussing how the nonprofit organization should operate in the future.

“If we don’t get members here, we don’t exist,” said John Egelhaaf of the conservancy’s executive committee. Egelhaaf led the board meeting due to the absence of a president and vice president. “That’s the harsh truth.”

The conservancy works as a nonprofit that manages Benton Harbor’s 13 parks.

This was the first time the conservancy had met since Nov. 22. The Jan. 17 meeting was canceled.

In November, members discussed the option of hiring an executive director – something the nonprofit has never had. On Tuesday, there was only talk off attendance and filling committees.

Committees various members volunteered for, which required no action from the conservancy, included the Adopt-A-Park Committee, Parks Management Committee and the Bylaws/Membership Committee.

“We need to recruit members and look into the bylaws on how membership changes,” Egelhaaf said, referring to the Bylaws/Membership Committee. “Finding a quorum is enough of a challenge as it is.”

Darwin Watson, Benton Harbor’s city manager and conservancy member, said they should look at who is still listed as a member and make the appropriate updates.

Among those listed as active members for the conservancy is Kysre Gondrezick, who plays basketball at the University of Michigan.

A few members asked whether they could decrease the number of members in order to ensure there would be a quorum at meetings.

Ironically, due to the nonprofit’s bylaws, the conservancy would need a quorum in order to do so.

Kinexus fallout

Egelhaaf said the conservancy has had a hard time finding an organization for bookkeeping purposes after Kinexus dropped out of doing so toward the end of 2016.

Egelhaaf said Cornerstone Alliance had a sympathetic ear and was able to help out in that capacity.

“We still don’t have the administrative aspect,” Egelhaaf said. “All of the agenda building, minute taking, the meeting prep is not happening. The executive committee is doing its best to fill that void.”

The conservancy still holds its meetings in a conference room inside Kinexus’ building in Benton Harbor.

Brian Saxton, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor and conservancy member, told members the conservancy is at a crossroad as a result.

“Kinexus is gone. They said they no longer wish to provide the administrative support to this organization,” Saxton explained Tuesday. “We lost all of the administrative functions and were given a box from Kinexus, full of files and maybe a CD or two. That’s what we have. There’s no infrastructure. We need to ask ourselves, does this organization have the resources to survive?”

That question, along with who will be voted the conservancy’s president, will likely be up for further discussion at the organization’s next meeting on May 16.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2017)

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