Columbia Club directors take aim at fellow board members in court

October 18, 2013

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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