By Dave Schwab
Attorney Steven Haskins and members and past presidents of La Jolla Woman's Club last week called for an investigation into alleged improprieties with club operations and finances.
"We believe that over $160,000 has been lost in the past two years by the club - that's half of their liquid assets they need to operate on," Haskins said at a Sept. 17 press conference outside the club, adding, "I don't think it's the economy."
Haskins is representing one group of women at the 260-plus-member club which has split into factions recently over club finances, controversy over a preferred catering contract between the club and Abbey Catering and Design, and the recent dismissal of club president Zy Dewey.
Asked what he meant by "lost" funds, Haskins referred to a financial analysis done by Pamela Hartwell, the club's first vice president the past two years.
Hartwell indicated, in a letter to the club's board dated July 8, 2010, that "the club's current cash assets of $158,886 are $162,451 less than what they were as of May 31, 2008. "In other words, the cash assets are less than half of what they were two years ago - an alarming downward trajectory," Hartwell wrote. "At this rate of loss, the club will deplete its current cash accounts in about two and one half years."
Haskins said Monday, "It looks like, because other caterers were frozen out, that their (club's) income dropped precipitously and that they've pretty much been operating at a deficit the past couple years. ... Hopefully, if they get someone to manage who's more caterer-friendly to encourage more (event) bookings and profitability, this place could easily support itself."
Dewey, who could not be reached for comment, was "censured and removed" recently by the vote of nine club board members who presented a laundry list of complaints against her. In an earlier interview with the Light, she defended her actions and said she believed she was still rightfully the president.
Another major issue of contention dividing club members involves complaints from catering companies owners who have said they were told to pay fees directly to the club's manager, Betsy Ring, rather than to the club. Ring has worked at the club for 12 years and as part of her employment also lives there.
The club treasurer's role vis a vis catering has also been called into question.
"It turns out the treasurer of the club is also the executive director of the only catering company that the board allows to work here," said Haskins, adding, "... This is a serious conflict of interest."
Margo Ehman-Singleton, acting president since Dewey's dismissal, said club treasurer Jesika Leszewski-Grove - who is listed on the Abbey Catering website as director of special events - has resigned.
Ehman-Singleton said she is also serving as interim house manager in place of Ring, who been "suspended" and is looking into the issues raised by members.
Noting she is "not an accountant," she said she is "not seeing these treasury reports citing (financial) discrepancies."
Ehman-Singleton called the matter of what she called the "exclusive" catering contract "substantial ... It's a legal contract."
Ring and Leszewski-Grove could not be reached for comment on their status.
Hilda Berg, past La Jolla Woman's Club president, said at the press conference that she and other club members are displeased with the board's policy of having closed meetings.
"We want open meetings so that members know what's going on," she said. "We want an audit so we know what's happening to our (financial) losses."