By Gwendolyn Craig
The chapter is suing the Adirondack Mountain Club over that decision.
The decision would allow city chapter members to continue their memberships with ADK, but it would remove the chapter’s financial and legal status. It’s not clear what the decision would mean for Camp Nawakwa, a downstate retreat in Harriman State Park on Lake Sebago. The camp is maintained by the city chapter for use of certain members.
Judge Thomas Zugibe issued a temporary restraining order on the Adirondack Mountain Club board’s decision in Rockland County Supreme Court, allowing the chapter to continue its operations for the time being. A settlement hearing is slated for July 16.
Michael Barrett, executive director of ADK, deferred questions to the ADK board. In response to Adirondack Explorer’s request for an interview, ADK President Tom Andrews sent an emailed statement saying that the board had received allegations of “exclusion, member disenfranchisement, and financial concerns” from city chapter members.
Andrews added, “when repeated efforts to obtain answers from leaders of the New York City Chapter are refuted, it becomes a serious concern.”
Several city chapter board members and the chapter secretary did not respond to an email or voicemail requesting comment on Thursday. Judith Bachman, an attorney representing the club chapter, declined to comment.
But in court records, Bachman called ADK’s move to dissolve the city chapter “a bad faith effort to ultimately seize NY ADK’s assets,” done “suddenly and unilaterally.”
ADK has 27 chapters, two of which are incorporated as their own nonprofits under the umbrella of ADK, including the New York City Chapter and the Keene Chapter. Included in court records was a letter dated June 21 from Barrett to Eve Mancuso, the city chapter’s secretary. The letter alerted her to an ADK board hearing on the potential city chapter’s dissolution.
In that letter, Barrett described the city chapter as one that “masks as ADK for a steady funding stream and to procure a lease from the Palisades Park Commission” to operate an exclusive downstate camp restricted to about 200 of its 1,200 members. Barrett also wrote that the chapter appeared to intentionally circumventing tax laws by allegedly failing to report its income. He also said it failed to pay sales tax on application fees and use of keys to Camp Nawakwa.
Barrett wrote that about 80% to 90% of the chapter’s finances go toward Camp Nawakwa, but not all chapter members have the opportunity to enjoy it. The chapter’s bylaws show there are two kinds of members, chapter members and “Nawakwans.” Those who are deemed “Nawakwans” are allowed to use Camp Nawakwa and allowed to vote on issues related to the camp.
Club bylaws show to become a “Nawakwan,” one must be a city chapter member, who has paid an application fee and completed an orientation and safety course determined by the chapter’s board of directors. Then one must pay dues and be voted in by the board of directors.
Barrett wrote that the club received a “whistleblower” letter in 2016 alleging that the chapter was only noticing “Nawakwans” during elections. Barrett included a passage from one of the letters ADK received from a past city chapter member.
“Unfortunately there was a cohort of members who were aging adults who saw the camp as their private oasis and felt strong proprietary rights to it,” the letter read. Barrett did not include the name of the author. “At times I thought their hostility to new members was due to the fact that some of these new comers were persons of color but the most likely cause of their hostility was that these folks had children. By 2015 the board of directors of the club was dominated by this cohort … and they took actions and made policy to ensure that families with children would not feel welcome.”
Barrett added in his letter that nothing within ADK is exclusive. He pointed to how even members of the public may use its Adirondack Park properties including the Adirondak Loj at Heart Lake and John’s Brook Lodge, both in Essex County. Barrett also criticized the club chapter for not providing ADK with financial support during the coronavirus pandemic, “notwithstanding the fact that it had approximately $350,000 in revenue on hand (which is itself a problem),” he wrote.
Chapter leaders did not attend the hearing and on June 29, Barrett wrote Mancuso again, saying that the chapter had been dissolved. On July 1, Mancuso and other chapter leaders filed a petition and complaint against ADK.
In the complaint, the chapter alleges that ADK “shifted away from being a collegial membership organization” in 2019, the year Barrett was hired to replace Neil Woodworth. The chapter alleged that Barrett targeted their organization. The complaint also lists a number of alleged errors for how the chapter should have been notified of the dissolution hearing.
“Beyond baselessly trying to dissolve the chapter, ADK’s actions through Barrett are a unilateral and unauthorized attempt to dissolve a New York corporation,” the complaint reads, adding that “all foregoing efforts are part of a campaign to seize the assets of NY ADK.”
In a letter to its members dated July 6, the city chapter’s board of directors wrote that it “will continue to work to prevent the dissolution of the New York Chapter so we may continue to thrive and prosper as we have for almost a hundred years.”