Amid growing concern about the future of the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, Chicago's LGBT library, the organization remains steadfast in its silence about its plans for relocation and basic operations.
In late January, Windy City Times first reported that the library's current home at 1127 W. Granville Ave. was for rent. Karen Sendziak, president of the library's board, later confirmed that the library would move. She has provided little information since, stating that media inquiries would be handled by the library's attorney, who Sendziak said is out of the country and cannot be named.
To date, WCT has not been able to obtain the names of any other board members, nor has the paper been provided a copy of the organization's current bylaws.
WCT submitted multiple inquiries to Sendziak but received no response.
On Feb. 5, two WCT reporters arrived at the library and asked Sendziak for a copy of the organization's bylaws and a list of its board of directors, both of which she declined to disclose, stating that the library's attorney was working hard on getting that information to the newspaper. Sendziak would not provide the name of that attorney when questioned further. Asked when such information would be made available, Sendziak replied, "When we are ready."
Sendziak did note that the Windy City Times newspaper remains at the front of the library. The Feb. 1 issue featured a front-page investigation on the library.
On Feb. 6, Gerber/Hart released an update on the move. "The new location will be a place where we can ensure the safety and protection of the books and historical archives we have been entrusted to hold," the statement read.
The language of the statement suggests that the library has not yet found a new home.
"We will keep you apprised throughout our search and will let you know as soon as we find and secure a new home, and are looking forward to sharing the excitement of this next, new chapter of our existence with you all!" the library said in a statement.
The library's lease is up at the end of April. The Gerber/Hart has not yet stated the anticipated costs of the move or what neighborhoods it is considering.
The organization's most recent statement notes its reason for moving as being "presented with a new, non-negotiable three-year lease reflecting a significant rental increase without any offer of upgrading the premises."
Rent at the library in 2011 is believed to have been approximately $5,570 a month, as listed on documents WCT uncovered.
Rae Ann Cecrle, the building's landlord, said that the lease was negotiable like all leases and that the library never requested significant upgrades to the building.
" [ Sendziak ] never told me anything she wanted except she said the windows were leaking and cold air was coming through the mail slot," Cecrle said, adding that she called a contractor and fixed both issues.
According to Cecrle, the new lease contained a $250/month rental increase, or an increase just shy of 4.5 percent. Cecrle offered to donate the rental increase to the library for 2012 up front and said the library could use its security deposit towards updating the library.
Cecrle said she increased the rent because it had not been increased in two years, and she needed to show income on her mortgage.
She said that before signing its 2011 lease, which began in February, the Gerber/Hart operated without a lease for 18 months under the management of neighborhood organization Edgewater Development Corporation.
"They kept trying to get her to sign a lease, and she just wouldn't sign the lease," Cecrle said. Since that time, new management has taken over the building. Cecrle said that the organization eventually signed a lease in March.
Windy City Times obtained copies of board meeting agendas from December 2010 and February 2011. Those agendas suggest that a move may have been discussed during those months. Both agendas contain items on "physical plant" and "lease."
Given difficulties of getting the library to sign the past lease, Cecrle said she sent Gerber/Hart a three-year lease for 2012.
Cecrle's name is well-known in Edgewater. In addition to owning the building that houses Gerber/Hart, M.Henrietta and the Granville Anvil gay bar, Cecrle has been involved in Edgewater community planning for more than 25 years.
In 2009, she founded Edgewater Artists in Motion, the community group that fills empty neighborhood storefronts with artwork in an effort to attract businesses to the community. The project has been featured in Chicago media outlets throughout Chicago and in The New York Times. Neighborhood organizations like Cecrle's have been trying to put more visible storefront windows on the street, which some argue deters crime and attracts new business.
In keeping with that work, Cecrle said she did include one non-negotiable clause in the new Gerber/Hart lease; she wanted the library to open its blinds more often and install a welcoming window display. According to Cecrle, she hired consultants and told Sendziak she would fund any upgrades to the library's window display.
"I was very willing to spend money, but I never got any feedback from her on what she wanted," Cecrle said. The blinds have been open more, she said, but the upgrades never happened.
It was Cecrle who told 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman that she thought the library intended to move two months ago. Both Cecrle and Osterman have stated that they wanted the library to stay and hoped it had the financial resources to do so.
"I'm really sorry that this is happening," said Cecrle about the move, adding that she continues to wish the best for the organization.
Cecrle has found one possible tenant for the space already, she said.
It remains unclear if Gerber/Hart has the money to purchase property or if it intends to lease a space. Information on the organization's current board of directors and finances is hard to come by because the organization has not filed its 2010 IRS Form 990.
WCT independently obtained a copy of the organizations bylaws from 2000 as well as a copy from 1996.
The 1996 version of the bylaws was provided by the Illinois attorney general's office. According to Robyn Ziegler, a spokesperson for the office, those bylaws were used to register the organization and have not been amended with the attorney general's office since.
The version of the library's bylaws from 1996 reveal that, at that time, the library was required to operate with at least 18 people on its board. In the 2000 bylaws, the board of directors was set at a minimum of 10 people and a maximum of 15.
In its 2009 IRS 990 Form, Gerber/Hart Library listed just two board members in addition to SendziakOwen Keehnen and Sukie de la Croix. ( de la Croix did not actually join the board until late 2010 ) . Both board members have since left the organization.
It remains unclear who replaced them. It is also unknown if the library's bylaws have been amended since 2000 to allow the organization to operate with fewer than 10 board members. Windy City Times is continuing to investigate this issue.
Participation on the board appears to have dropped between 2007-2009. In its 2007 IRS filing, the library listed nine members. A 2008 filing reflects just five members. Sendziak is listed as president in all three available filings. Sendziak is also listed as the person in charge of the organization's finances in 2009.
According to the 2000 bylaws, board members were to be elected annually, with each serving one-year terms. Board members at that time were only allowed to serve four terms consecutively, taking a year off before becoming eligible for re-election. Terms began in January of each year.
Windy City Times has received reports that dues-paying members have not been informed of annual meetings or elections in recent years. Some say they have also not received renewal applications.
In 2007, Sendziak was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for her decades of commitment to the library and Chicago's LGBT history. According to her biography at that time, Sendziak had been serving as president of the board since 2004. If Sendziak has served as president uninterrupted since that time, she is serving her eighth consecutive year. Available financial documents indicate that Sendziak has been an unpaid volunteer throughout.
The library has yet to release requested information on the length of Sendziak's term or the date of the organization's last annual meeting and elections.
Chicago's LGBT community, long-acquainted with Gerber/Hart, has also been silent on these issues. Few have been willing to speak on the record to provide even basic information about the library. Fewer yet are willing to speak about their concerns widely, but they quietly expressed concern about a community whose archives are in a dark locked room on Granville Avenue.
Assistance: Tracy Baim,
Jamie Anne Royce