A group of YMCA members is threatening legal action if the Y does not release financial documents and other records the group requested in December.
In a letter sent Friday to the YMCA of North Rock County Board of Directors and CEO Tom Den Boer, five YMCA members warn that state statutes require the Y to respond to a request the group made Dec. 20 for a slew of documents.
The group sent a Dec. 20 letter seeking the Y’s financial and tax records, board meeting minutes and other documents.
The group is led by Paul Murphy, a YMCA member whose membership was suspended last month after he repeatedly asked the Y’s board for access to its bylaws.
Murphy on Friday told The Gazette none of the members have received any of the materials they asked for—including nonprofit IRS tax filings that the YMCA is bound by state law to release to any of its members.
He said no board member has directly reached out to anyone from his group since its first letter last month.
The group’s first request was undersigned by 52 current and former YMCA members and board members, according to a copy obtained by The Gazette.
The members said in their Friday letter they are giving the Y’s board and its executive leadership until Tuesday, Jan. 15, to supply the documents. If the Y doesn’t, the group said it’s prepared to sue the YMCA and pursue the records through a court order, according to the latest letter.
The letter characterizes itself as a “demand” for information.
“This letter is a more thorough explanation of the action that we as a group can take,” Murphy said. “It clarifies to the board what the Wisconsin state statute says and how we can proceed through a court order to get those items if they don’t meet the request.”
Murphy’s group has said it is concerned with the Y’s governance after several YMCA board members were removed in the last two years and several members had their memberships abruptly canceled.
Some board members have said they were removed abruptly and without a vote by the board. They said their terminations from the board came after they questioned the Y board about its inner workings, asked for the Y to be more transparent about its finances or questioned if the Y’s board was handling board member termination in accordance with its bylaws.
YMCA Board President Jeffrey Jensen and Den Boer did not immediately respond to a Gazette inquiry on Friday, and the Y has not responded to an open records request The Gazette filed this week seeking access to the Y’s bylaws and its most recent IRS tax filings.
The Y responded to the concerned members’ Dec. 20 letter with a response delivered Dec. 22 and signed by Jensen.
Jensen’s response, which was obtained by The Gazette, told Murphy’s group its concerns already had been addressed earlier in the year and that the group could access the Y’s financial information through Guidestar, a third-party database that collects nonprofit financial information.
The note from Jensen also told Murphy’s group to stop emailing Y board members. Jensen suggested the group was “unauthorized” to send emails to the board.
The Friday letter from Murphy’s group cites state statutes governing access to records for corporations and nonprofit groups. The group says the statutes require the YMCA to disclose financial information, bylaws, board meeting minutes and other documents to any member who asks for them.
The group’s letter also cites a state statute it says gives the YMCA’s member authority to call a special meeting of members to air concerns to the board and bring proposed policy changes for discussion.
“This is a grassroots effort,” Murphy said. “On the short term, what we’re trying to do is ensure that the organization is complying with its bylaws and its not-for-profit status. We want to bring transparency to the organization, and we want to make sure that all members can feel welcome at the YMCA and that voices can be heard with dignity and respect.”
Murphy is one of several Y members his group says have pushed for transparency at the Y and ended up later barred from the Y’s facilities in Janesville and Milton after their memberships were placed under administrative review by Den Boer.
Murphy, a local bicycling event promoter who has been a Y member on and off since the 1980s, has said he refuses to meet with Den Boer until he’s given a documented reason why his membership was suspended.
Murphy said he hired a lawyer over the matter of his own suspension, but he said that’s a matter separate from his group’s request for information.
On Friday, Murphy said his group was on the fence over whether to send another letter urging release for Y documents it requested or to simply file a lawsuit to try to force the Y to comply.
The group, which comprises local businessmen, finance professionals and an attorney—most of them longtime members of the Y—opted instead to send the Y another letter.
“You get four or five guys where we’re thinking with our heart. We want to show that we’re not these evil five guys that are trying to take the Y down,” Murphy said. “So let’s give them one more chance. If they don’t take this serious, I guess they don’t get it.”