Letter: Lawyer: SoNoCC ‘get out the vote’ night was a targeted campaign event

To the Editor:

As the personal attorney who had attempted to help forge a resolution of the differences that were threatening to undermine the relationship between the South Norwalk Community Center’s Board Chairman and its Executive Director, I had been the under the impression that my conversations with Edwin Camacho were to be kept in confidence. However, having read Mr. )Warren) Peña’s characterization of those conversations, I feel comfortable responding.

It is important to note that one of the undercurrents of the concerns raised by Pat and Marina Ferrandino was that Mr. Peña was exercising coercive control over the operations and staff of the SNCC. And, to get an overview of this concern, one need look no further than the signature on Mr. Peña’s emails from the SNCC. On those, he lists himself as the “President” and “Chairman of the Board” — admittedly, Mr. Peña’s giving himself an extra title (for the bylaws provide for only a Chairperson and not for a president) might seem like a petty matter.

However, it speaks to a chairperson who is either unfamiliar with or indifferent to the contents of his organization’s bylaws. In either case, regardless of what may be his good intentions, such characteristics suggest someone who might not be ready to lead a community organization which provides invaluable services to many families. Certainly, the Captain Queeg claim in Mr. Peña’s letter that “Patrick conspired with Marina to create anarchy among us” might also suggest that Mr. Peña was not yet ready for the position.

Yet, Mr. Peña also cited Mr. Ferrandino’s request that I attempt to intervene to review his concerns with SNCC Board member Edwin Camacho as another sign of Mr. Ferrandino’s unfitness. Whether Mr. Peña merely resented being questioned on his misappropriation of SNCC assets for private political gain, or thought the public airing of these allegations would somehow be in the best interests of the SNCC, is a question that (for the time being) will remain unanswered. As the current Board actions indicate, Mr. Camacho sought to remove the volunteers who had uncovered significant concerns and allow Mr. Peña to remain as chairman, albeit subject to a “temporary” leave of absence (which violates the SNCC’s own bylaws).

Secondly, Pat and Marina were very concerned with the printing that had been undertaken which featured Mr. Peña’s picture on a “get out the vote” card that was being widely distributed. This was not simply a technical violation of an obscure campaign regulation, but an act that implicated a non-profit entity directly in political activity which could derail its non-profit status. And, the hand-out was not the only time when SNCC resources were used by Mr. Peña for political purposes.

On August 18, 2013, Mr. Peña directed that an email be sent out inviting people to attend a “meeting to talk about Latino engagement for this year’s election” which was to be held at the SNCC. The meeting was not a “get out the vote meeting,” but was instead (based upon one person’s admission to me that evening when she was asked to leave the meeting) a campaign event for a mayoral campaign in which Mr. Peña was involved. Aside from the campaign law violations (sending out a political email without all of the required bells and whistles to that effect), such a use of the SNCC by its chairperson could, once again, implicate the SNCC in political efforts which could jeopardize its non-profit status.

Copy  of invitation supplied by Mr. Colarossi 

(editor’s note: recipients redacted to protect privacy):

Email invitation to get out the vote event

Now, two uses of SNCC assets that give rise to improper political activity by its Chairperson should be sufficient grounds for the chairperson to put the needs of the organization above anything else and resign. But, that has not happened. What has happened is that the SNCC by-laws have been violated by allowing for a “temporary leave of absence” and the election of a “temporary chairperson.” However, the bylaws do not allow for such a contortion of basic organizational rules. In fact, the SNCC bylaws specify the offices which are to be filled and nowhere does it indicate that an “interim chairperson” or “temporary chairperson’ can be included in the roster of officers. Furthermore, as the SNCC bylaws provide that no person can hold more than one office, in providing Mr. Pena cover for his non-resignation, Mr. Camacho is violating that rule as he is ostensibly the “temporary Chairperson” and arguably remains the “vice-chairman”, notwithstanding that someone else may be the “temporary” vice chairman.

I do not know why Mr. Camacho rejected out of my hand my suggestion that he prevail upon Mr. Peña to resign and seek nomination as the new chairperson. Whether Mr. Camacho’s position as chairperson of Norwalk’s Democrat Town Committee and Mr. Peña’s role in Democrat party politics has anything to do with those decisions is something about which I cannot speculate. However, as a private citizen, it would make me wonder if the leadership of a critical community agency needs to reevaluate if the outside interests of some members might be in conflict with much needed organizational changes that are long overdue.

Atty. Steven A. Colarossi


4 responses to “Letter: Lawyer: SoNoCC ‘get out the vote’ night was a targeted campaign event”

  1. Edwin Camacho

    How Mr. Colarossi, Mr. Fernandino’s personal attorney, thought his attempt to “forge a resolution of the differences that were threatening to undermine the relationship” between Mr. Pena and Mr. Fernandino, by asking me to “prevail upon Mr. Peña to resign” and upon the board to retain Mr. Fernandino in the position of interim director to which he had recently been elevated, was either in the nature of a confidential conversation or a true “forging of differences” between the parties, is unclear to me.

    What is clear to me and SoNoCC’s board, is that, Mr. Fernandino did seek to create anarchy within the organization by, among other things, most recently authoring a letter for Ms. Forero’s signature, challenging the board’s recent decision to elevate him (Mr. Fernandino) to the position of interim executive director, above her (which decision he, himself was a party to), and that he also materially misrepresented to board that he had no knowledge of the voter registration and empowerment drive expenditures, when, by email to him dated November 11, 2013, it appears he did. It is not clear to me how long Mr. Fernandino knew that the “drop card”, which was handed out as part of the voter registration drive, improvidently contained Mr. Pena’s image, but once it was shared with the full board (vs. selected members of the board, which, at times, had been Mr. Fernandino’s practice) the full board resolved to develop clear and consistent procedures for civic engagement activities, which had been lacking, and further that Mr. Peña will contribute the voter registration and empowerment drive expenditures, to remove any confusion regarding their propriety.

    Mr. Colarossi need not speculate any further, the recent decisions of SoNoCC’s full board have been motivated by the need to restore order, and to begin the process of becoming a more confident, mature, and respected organization, by bringing in new people with correct skill sets, experience and a fresh outlook, focused on meeting the needs of children and families, which is its mission.

  2. Lisa Thomson

    Steve, Steve, Steve….welcome back 🙂

  3. John Levin

    Oy vey.

  4. MarjorieM

    Lisa, Lisa, Lisa….Oy vey!

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