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Columbia Club directors take aim at fellow board members in court

Chris O'Malley
October 18, 2013
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A dispute has erupted on the board of the city’s oldest and most prestigious private club, with three directors filing suit against the Columbia Club and eight of their fellow directors.

Directors Joe Ferrara, Bruce Stauffer and Abdul-Hakim Shabazz—a lawyer and  WIBC-FM 93.1 radio host—allege in a Marion County Court suit filed Thursday that the eight fellow directors adopted new membership rules during a secretive executive session last month.

They say their fellow board members have violated state statute and procedure.

The eight fellow directors named in the complaint include the president of the 124-year-old club—Terry Young, an executive for Old National Trust Co. The other defendants are Josie Henneke, Mark Higgins, Tom Nickols, Miles Schroeder, David Ring, Fred Scott and Al Smith. 

Neither they nor Columbia Club’s general manger, Jim Rentschler, could immediately be reached for comment.

The three plaintiffs were elected to the board last year. Following their election, the eight other directors “started a campaign to make the ability of members to nominate candidates to the board more restrictive, if not impossible,” they allege.

Shabazz told IBJ that he and his two fellow directors were elected to the board as part of a procedure that requires each to receive at least 10 percent of member signatures.

The amended bylaws at issue, approved last month by the eight other directors, changed the rules by raising that percentage to 25 percent. The suit alleges the process is contrary to state law.

They also complain that the amended bylaws impose restrictions on when a member can nominate a candidate to the board, thereby discriminating against those who can’t be at the club during designated times on weekdays.

The plaintiffs allege the majority of directors informed members of the proposed amended bylaws but did so through email, which they said did not constitute a notice to all voting members.

The three directors opposing the move said they published their concerns to members, saying they believed the amended bylaws “would disenfranchise” members from electing their candidates to the board due to the proposed restrictions.

They also allege members weren’t given adequate notice that amended bylaws would be brought up for action at a board meeting last month. The actual approval of the amended bylaws, by an 8-4 vote, was improperly conducted during an executive session, they allege.

The three directors want the court to issue an injunction to block the club from carrying out the amended bylaws. They also want the court to force the Columbia Club to allow them “full and unfettered” access to the club’s books and records, which they say has been denied to them.

“To date, the club, by and through one or more of the director defendants, have refused to provide complete and accurate financial information to plaintiffs as requested,” states the suit.

 

 


 

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  • Former Employee-state of the club
    As a former employee of the Columbia Club this mess does not surprise me one bit. The Elite Eight is up to no good again. The Club is full of a bunch of pompous Republicans who want everything for free. The Club struggles financially more than you will ever know. (Wasn't it just a few years ago a member stole from the CC foundation?) Any employee will tell you they fear the club will close in several years the way it is going. I didn't live up to General Manager Jim Rentschler 'pretty' standards so I was let again. It is only a matter of time before the place goes under and just becomes a regular hotel. Which will probably be a good thing because some of those sleeping rooms need major renovations.
  • Current member
    I have only been a member of the Club for about 2 years and in that short time you can see the bickering, power struggles and changes have given the Club a bad rap and have upset a lot of members, so much so that I have heard through current and former members there has been a rather large number of members leaving the Club. For the most part, I can say I have enjoyed being a member and the amenities that come with it, but because of crap like this, I am highly considering leaving the Club as well.
  • A fine mess.
    Jim F, you can't run for the board anymore. You have to be hand picked by the current board members to run. Then they vote on you, not the membership! Three openings, three candidates, three winners!! Aka "appointed". The gentlemen who filed suit won the election, thanks to a petition drive, to get them on the ballot and force an election. Gee whiz they won! Now, fast forward, a nasty letter comes out from the "President" decrying the three new board members as "enemies of the state". The petition rules were then altered by the same board members and their appointees who took power away from the general members. Does this sound like a country in central Europe in the 1930's? Hmmm, ask the last batch of members who resigned or better yet look at who spends the money there, certainly not the board. As far as Republican roots, yes that's how it began, but that's not what it is now. It's a social club full of every walk of life: old, young, black, white, gay, straight, women, men, all religions and yes even some Democrats. I only hope the lawsuit helps the members to take back the club from a misguided board, who think they are smarter than everyone else.
  • More Thoughts
    According to the Columbia Club's own local lawyer's the "Club" does not technically qualify as a "private" club as defined by state statue. This was their argument for becoming a non smoking "club" and doing so without putting the vote to its membership. The board has been running the club without regard for its By-Laws or Member rights. Its nothing more than a hotel that charges dues to a few people who still clink on to what it was in years past.
  • Much to do about nothing
    All this is.....a group of "bar flys" who want their 3 cronies in a position to get them each a key to the liquor cabinet. Nothing more.
    • I hate these kinds of lawsuits
      IBJ article excerpt: “The three directors…want the court to force the Columbia Club to allow them ‘full and unfettered’ access to the club’s books and records, which they say has been denied to them. To date, the club, by and through one or more of the director defendants, have refused to provide complete and accurate financial information to plaintiffs as requested, states the suit.” Do these board members (plaintiffs) not know how to read the club’s tax returns (IRS Form 990) to gain broad as well as specific financial information? Do these plaintiffs know the 'Columbia Club Inc.' (“CC”) is a private social club that operates with a tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(7) under the Internal Revenue Code (the IRS ruled on CC in 1951)? Hence, while a private member club, it is subject to certain public disclosure rules passed as law by the U.S. Congress and enforced by the IRS? As someone who has zero-interest in this club, I just reviewed their most recent three years’ worth of tax returns, publicly viewable on the Internet, and found them to fairly pedestrian, including the information on Schedule O. These plaintiffs should do likewise. That said, I hate these kinds of lawsuits as they waste company/club resources by spending money on a legal defense because certain board members “didn’t get their way” and resorted to harassing the club.
    • Pete - Did I Hit A Nerve
      Pete - One more comment assuming your have revisited this article. I must hit a nerve with you since your response was highly over the top and you made many more assumptions about me than I did about the Club board members. BTW, with your attitude, perhaps you should run for the board. :)
    • Pete - Think Broader
      Pete - I consider myself an Independent so I have no allegiance to either major party. Unless you have not been around Indianapolis for a while, the Columbia Club is clearly a Republican hangout. The Club is somewhat secretive and selective in its membership and one has to generally adhere to Republican policy positions. These types of organizations can be coercive and not open to a broader range of ideas. I think your response puts the icing on the cake with respect to your point about "what is wrong with this country." It hard to be a moderate, fiscally conservative and socially progressive, in this state without being rejected by one of the parties. I have traveled through most of the states and most of the large cities and have found that Indiana, in comparison to the other locations, is very conservative. Let me know when the Columbia Club does something for the good of all Indiana citizens rather than for only right leaning political purposes.
    • I see what you did there Pete
      No matter the outcome of the lawsuit things won't be quite the same, for some people.
    • Jim F. Solves A Riddle
      I'm thankful for Jim F's post because it so vividly captures what's wrong with the country and it's primarily this: there are a lot of people like him, on both sides of the aisle. To look at an organization and make a broad-brush stroke assumption as to who belongs (Republicans) reveals the same exclusionary mentality he attempts to chide (because, as if by mathematical postulate, anything that goes wrong in a Jim-type Democrat's eyes must, necessarily, be because Republicans are at the helm; and a Jim-inspired Republican clearly knows that the source of all social ills may be traced, logically, to Democrats). But Jim doesn't stop there. Borrowing his assumption for a moment (that all members are Republicans), Jim exhibits the same bigotry I suspect he outwardly condemns while professing faux intellectualism to his friends -- by asserting that, if all are Republican, then, ergo, they all come with degrees, big egos, and small brains. I nearly laughed out loud at the suggestion that the article would render Jim F "better informed" -- given that it will take a lot more than an IBJ post to crack through such a plaque-buildup of ignorance. I'm only glad nobody has [yet] picked up a rock from the other side of the political teeter-totter and hurled it back while proclaiming something equally silly, like "Oh, yeah? Well the Indianapolis Athletic Club folded because it was all Democrats who can't control a budget and spend more than they take in." Unfortunately, it's all so typical: let's pound the table and assert our righteous position with no understanding of the underlying issue, no knowledge of the people involved, and no acknowledgement that people are anything other than single-faceted robots who belong to one party or another and therefore uniformly subscribe to that party's viewpoint. Rather, because it's easy, because it makes us feel smart, because we don't know what else to say, we mindlessly put issues and people into two neat little boxes and then ridicule them based on labels we conveniently like to ascribe to those boxes. Alas, I come full circle, returning to why I'm thankful for Jim F's post in the first place: I'd scratched my head in disbelief the past few years pondering why the country is so polarized and why discourse is so stunted; and Jim F. has finally, thankfully, delivered an answer to the riddle and it's this -- because he's out there, and he's multiplying...
    • Joe F Solves A Riddle
      I'm thankful for Jim F's post because it so vividly captures what's wrong with the country and it's primarily this: there are a lot of people like him, on both sides of the aisle. To look at an organization and make a broad-brush stroke assumption as to who belongs (Republicans) reveals the same exclusionary mentality he attempts to chide (because, as if by mathematical postulate, anything that goes wrong in a Joe-type Democrat's eyes must, necessarily, be because Republicans are at the helm; and a Joe-inspired Republican clearly knows that the source of all social ills may be traced, logically, to Democrats). But Joe doesn't stop there. Borrowing his assumption for a moment (that all members are Republicans), Joe exhibits the same bigotry I suspect he outwardly condemns while professing faux intellectualism to his friends -- by asserting that, if all Republican, then, ergo, they all come with degrees, big egos, and small brains. I nearly laughed out loud at the suggestion that the article would render Joe F "[somehow] better informed" -- given that it will take a lot more than an IBJ post to crack through such a plaque-buildup of ignorance. I'm only glad nobody has [yet] picked up a rock from the other side of the political teeter-totter and hurled it back while proclaiming something equally silly, like "Oh, yeah? Well the Indianapolis Athletic Club folded because it was all Democrats who can't control a budget and spend more than they take in." Unfortunately, it's all so typical: let's pound the table and assert our righteous position with no understanding of the underlying issue, no knowledge of the people involved, and no acknowledgement that people are anything other than single-faceted robots who belong to one party or another and therefore uniformly subscribe to that party's viewpoint. Rather, because it's easy, because it makes us feel smart, because we don't know what else to say, we mindlessly put issues and people into two neat little boxes and then ridicule them based on labels we conveniently like to ascribe to those boxes. Alas, I come full circle, returning to why I'm thankful for Joe's post in the first place: I'd scratched my head in disbelief the past few years pondering why the country is so polarized and why discourse is so stunted; and Joe F. has finally, thankfully, delivered an to the riddle and it's this -- because he's out there, and he's multiplying...
    • Big Egos, Small Brains
      Secretive clubs with arcane rules scare me. Sounds like a bunch of goofball Republicans with degrees and big egos. I will certainly review all of Shabazz's columns with a more informed view of his political leanings.
      • Hypocritical Shabazz
        How aboout Shabazz support for SB 621 or his continued support of Marion County Republicans denying Beth White the ability to extend voting hours and operate voting centers? I cannot find it in print, but I seem to remember Shabazz arguing that people on public assistance should not be allowed to vote.
      • Clarification
        Btw, I should clarify that, despite my name, I am not one of the Board members and have never served on the board.
      • Actually the Reverse
        It's actually the reverse of the Tea Party. In this case, the majority of voting members overwhelmingly voted for the three.
        • In financially good shape
          While I agree with the suit, the club is actually in good financial shape - surpluses over several years. There was a period several years ago that was of concern. Despite this controversy, it's been a great place to get together with my varied group of friends - a lot like Cheers.
        • Sounds fishy to me
          Sounds like these three are playing they game that the tea party in congress did. I don't like what has passed so I will do anything and everything to shut it down.
          • This place is in trouble
            The Columbia Club has had financial problems in recent years. The gang of 8 sounds like part of the problem.
          • Validate Your Claim
            Readers would surely find it useful had you included some sort of validation to you claim he "has been trying to do that very thing to Marion County voters for the past 8 years."
            • Goose and Gander
              I find it ironic that Shabazz is suddenly concerned about someone’s voting rights being impinged upon since he has been trying to do that very thing to Marion County voters for the past eight years. I guess he never heard the saying that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

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