E-Mail from Long-Time IAGD Member

NOTE:  This email can be shared in any format with those interested in the IAGD expansion dialog. I only request it be used in its entirety and not unfairly excerpted.  My email is ac9707@wayne.edu if anyone wishes to contact me directly.

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Disclaimer:  I have written this as a long-time member of IAGD and participant on many committees over the years and NOT in my role as a second-term-of-office member of the Board of Directors or as a member of the Expansion Committee.

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24 April, 2012

Assalamu alaikum –

On April 12, 2012, I sent a letter to the Board of Directors, Board of Trustees and members of the Expansion Committee (emailing some and hand-delivering to others) requesting that they provide answers to my questions and allegations regarding the expansion process.  I waited for one week and received no response whatsoever. During that time, Sr. Suraiya (also a Board member) had posted her personal reflections about how the most recent Board meeting had disappointed her (in regards to discussing the community input from the March 17 meeting) on a blog and some Board members went into an uproar, claiming her action was ‘irresponsible’, behavior bordering on ‘misconduct’ and insisting Board members not speak about Board business publicly. (Board meetings are ‘public’ and open to the membership.) After that on April 19, I sent another letter to the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees, noting that I’d gotten no response when I had tried to ‘work within the system’, contacting IAGD administrators directly, and reiterated several of my most serious concerns regarding the handling of the expansion project.  It is now April 24 and I still have not gotten a response from any of the recipients of those emails.  The questions still need to be answered; the allegations still need to be addressed and resolved. 

In my April 12 letter (roughly 5 pages long), I detailed where I felt the Board, the Trustees and the Expansion committee had made serious mistakes along the way.  I have had the opportunity to be both a Board member and a member of the Expansion Committee (2010-present, replacing Sr. Fareeda who left the after serving for 2 years) and that has given me the unique vantage point to see the inner workings of this process.  I had an open mind to the expansion project when I began on the committee and I still am not totally opposed to IAGD expanding. However I am standing up questioning the process used to move the plan forward and hoping that the administration will listen to the community and not burden us all with a larger-than-necessary, overly-expensive expansion that may still not fit the actual needs (much less wants) of the IAGD community.  Expansion itself is not bad or wrong, but this plan may be too costly, too large and still not include enough of the right components.

For many years already, we’ve heard presentation after presentation in Ramadan and at monthly dinners proposing expansion and promising many things.  But the only effort made by the administration to get community input on the project was a passive survey taken during Ramadan 2010 when the plans were posted in the lobby without comment or explanation.  Only 32 surveys were returned to the Committee, and there is no way of being sure if any surveys were lost and even a few of those returned were clearly just children’s scribbling.  Even with such an apparent lack of interest and community support, the Committee continued to forge ahead.  Some Committee members have said they hope to break ground in 2012 and discussions in the Board and the Expansion Committee over the last six months have promised that an ‘aggressive fund-raising campaign’ will be starting soon to pay for the project.

In the autumn of 2011, there was an ‘informational meeting’ about the expansion project held for the Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, chairman of the Fund-raising Committee and Expansion Committee. The project was presented and there was much discussion about the potential cost of such a large project.  Though this was not an official meeting, a motion was made (now not part of any minutes because of the informality of the meeting) that asked the administrators for permission to ‘get a price’ for the project from architects.  Of course, nearly everyone on the Board of Directors was in agreement (one Board member opposed) because, much like buying a car or a house, one can’t know if it’s the ‘right’ car/house without knowing the price.  The motion passed and the Committee interviewed (two) architects and got ‘prices’. But these were only projected prices filled with estimates. The only significant number of which was the architect’s personal fee – a percentage of a projected cost of the project that still was not an all-inclusive total. The architect’s fee was originally set at nearly 3% of the projected cost and later negotiated to 2.5% which, in dollars is still slightly over $250,000 – a quarter of a million dollars.  (Simple math: If $250,000 is 2.5% of the projected cost, then 100% would be 10 million dollars.)

Since the vote taken was about getting a price, some members of the Expansion Committee and some of the Board of Directors expected to take another vote on whether we should proceed with the project when the estimates had been received. But that vote never came.  After repeated requests in Committee meetings to include ladies input in this project that’s so long been proposed to provide for sisters’ needs (after phase three of the last expansion never provided the much promised mezzanine), an announcement was sent to the community for a sisters’ meeting about the project. Strangely, with two female Board members, neither was asked to assist in planning or advertising the meeting for ladies.  The announcement of the ladies’ meeting came as a (welcome) surprise to Board members and Committee members who had asked for more community input, but gave only one week’s notice to sisters (and ended up being  on a day with the only major snow storm of this winter).  That e-news announcement was the first Committee members and Board members heard that the architect was actually hired.  Though the committee had chosen which architect they wanted (the more expensive of the two interviewed), it was felt his fee was too high and the chairman was asked to see if it could be renegotiated lower. No vote was taken on whether the new fee was low enough and no presentation was made by the Committee to the Board of Directors for their approval.

Neither the Board of Directors nor the Expansion Committee met to prepare the presentation for the sister’s meeting. The Board president discussed the plans projected on a screen.  Ladies surprised those who may have felt this would be just another passive presentation and put forth many hard questions about why ladies need to be on a separate floor, the cost of the project, the fiqh of using the current prayer hall as a social hall, the need for such a large building as well as proposed alternate floor plan ideas.  Some ladies lingered and asked additional questions of the administration.  When one sister (a long-time IAGD member) submitted her summary of the event, including some of the questions that hadn’t been answered, to the IAGD newsletter — her summary was removed and replaced by a totally pro-expansion summary.  She was told (by the president) that it was because her article did not support the goals of the organization.  Interesting, since the IAGD newsletter carries a disclaimer that reads:  “The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent IAGD positions or policies.”

The act of pulling that article was a spark that lit more fires. Not only did ladies feel their meeting had been misrepresented, their unanswered questions raised even more questions. At the March meeting, the Board passed a motion (with 5 in support, 2 against, 1 abstained and 1 unused proxy) to hold a general meeting, for the whole community ‘in the end of March or early April’. During their discussion, some members of the Board emphasized the need to have sufficient time to properly announce the meeting.  The following week, the Expansion Committee met and the date was moved up to March 17 (once again giving only one week notice) without any consultation with the Board or even a vote in the Committee.  Board members were surprised to see the e-news announcement with the much earlier date, but were never consulted on this date change.

The March 17 meeting was held, and, again, neither the Board of Directors nor the Expansion Committee had any input in the presentation or planning for the meeting.  (As of this writing, neither body has been given a copy of the presentation.) No official attendance was taken, but headcounts have the attendance at 160 adults – an amazing number considering there was only a week’s notice.  Again, the emphasis seemed to be on a lengthy ‘presentation’, leaving little time for input from the community. Tempers were high and occasionally flared up, but many community members continued to ask the same questions about cost, need, fiqh, and size. Now the presenters stated that the Board and Trustees had voted in favor of pursuing the project, citing that ‘informal meeting’ and the unrecorded motion about price seeking as the ‘vote’. They were also saying the project would cost $7.5 million without explanation as to how they had arrived at a figure much lower than what the architects’ figures had projected. At the April Board of Directors’ meeting, the Board was informed that the president (also Expansion Committee chairman) would be meeting with the architect to incorporate some of the community suggestions. No Expansion Committee meeting was called to work on the plan. Neither the Committee nor the Board (not to mention the community) had any input regarding which suggestions would be incorporated and which ignored.

That brings things back to the present.  Many, many people in the community talk about how bad this plan is and how outrageously costly it will be to build and to maintain, yet very few people take the time or effort (or guts) to speak up.  Privately saying something to one or another Board member or Trustee does not put that comment on record – letters may even be overlooked as the complaints of one individual. The blog Sr. Ann started as a forum for discussion (thealtplan@wordpress.com) has many spectators, but not many participants. Some people have stated they fear social repercussions if they speak up or post. Those of us standing up for the community’s right to have a voice in any expansion plans and how the administration spends their donations are disappointed that so few people are standing up for what they so passionately discuss in private venues.  Sadly, too few people take their membership and community concerns as seriously as they seem to take the fear of becoming social outcasts.

Some people tell me not to bother with all this drama because they feel, no matter what we do or say, those who want this project will push it through no matter what.  I hope they are wrong.  I continue to hope that those pushing this project forward will open their ears and hearts and listen to the community.  I firmly believe that, as members of the Board, we are here to serve the community – not the interests of a few individuals.  However, unless the community stands up and takes control of its own destiny soon, ground will be broken on an expansion that may just bankrupt our organization, shatter our trust in our leadership, and break our hearts.

Sincerely,

Your sister in Islam,

Robin A. Mazhar

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