I kept asking people who were apparently "in the know" to write down the facts for me, as they understood the (rather convoluted) facts to be, so a public discussion could take place and (hopefully) even more facts could come to light, as well as other points of view about the issues.
Recently, a very anonymous source put together a very anonymous history for me, which I am printing in its entirety.
Here it is, word-for-word...
W.H.O. as we know it today re-formed following a large meeting of neighbors and block club leaders at the Theodore Wirth Chalet in December 2006. At that meeting and others held openly and regularly, they established several standing committees, including one to specifically address the issue of Uncle Bill's, the convenience store that had become the epicenter of crime in the neighborhood.
One committee worked to establish bylaws and legally reconstitute the non-profit status that would allow WHO to once again be eligible to pursue grants as well as be the official funnel for NRP dollars, rather than the often-maligned NRRC, which many Willard-Homewood residents to this day do not feel represents their interests. One member of that committee, an attorney, secured pro bono representation and assistance from one of the largest law firms in Minneapolis to achieve these goals.
Meetings of the main WHO body (generally known as Block Club Leader meetings, though they were open to the general public) and its component committees took place regularly and both meeting minutes and agendas were circulated promptly.
A web site was established. A blog. A listserv. An archive of agendas and minutes. A newsletter. New block clubs sprang up across the neighborhood. Plans for new economic development along the west end of Plymouth Avenue were hatched. Things were happening. Then, WHO activism, including the submission of more than 80 Community Impact Statements, directly led to the shuttering and condemnation of Uncle Bill's in May 2007.
Enter Al McFarlane
Al McFarlane believes that Black control over the governance and the NRP process is critical to adequately serving the needs of the neighborhood. In his writings in Insight News, he has said that "even liberal whites perceive Black advancement, unbridled and self-directed, as a certain threat to cultural and political hegemony."
Not surprisingly, it did not take long for Al McFarlane to notice the resuscitation of the organization, led by a white couple, and throughout 2007 he ratcheted up his involvement in meetings. In February 2007, he published an article in his mouthpiece "Insight News" that essentially accused George and Bev Roberts of restricting "who can be at the table." Methodically, Mr. McFarlane created and engendered racial distrust and hostility through his words and actions via Insight News, his ongoing regular "Conversations" events, at the WHO meetings themselves, and in person with neighborhood residents.
It got so bad so quickly that distrustful black residents began to suspect unannounced meetings were taking place and, if they observed even a small table of people set up inside Homewood Studios (a common location for committee meetings, at Plymouth & Russell), they would enter and accuse the Roberts of such things. It was about this time that the sobriquet "White Homeowners Organization" began to circulate.
George and Bev Roberts are the most unassuming and friendly folks you can imagine, and have 40+ years of community involvement to their credit. George was a teacher at North High.
At WHO meetings, McFarlane used any number of techniques to systemically slow down and eventually mire the entire organization in procedural and parliamentary quicksand. Once-energized committee members slowly but surely walked away from their participation, discouraged by what was taking place. Approval of the completed bylaws
never happened, and eventually the pro bono law firm severed ties, too.
I'm told that there were even threats made against George and Bev Roberts (by whom, I do not know), and they walked away, too, though both have remained involved with the one remaining WHO standing committee (Economic Development), which has continued as an unaffiliated, disembodied entity with regular meetings, and whose primary achievement is the well-known "Artists' Core" homeowner initiative.
Into the leadership vacuum stepped Al McFarlane, Beverly Propes and Reverend Randy Staten. Al controls the agenda, and "parliamentarian" Randy Staten controls the procedural matters, effectively controlling the meetings.
Following this change, meeting attendance dropped off substantially. By summer 2008, meetings often consisted of just a handful of people, and sometimes even just McFarlane and Propes. Timely announcement of meetings became a thing of the past, as did advance circulation of agendas and prompt delivery of minutes. No longer were these documents properly archived on the WHO web site, and often the meetings board at NorthPoint identified the wrong room where the WHO meeting would actually be held.
The "new" McFarlane-controlled WHO took two more years to bring bylaws to a vote, involving now-ousted JACC executive director Jerry Moore as an adviser in their development. Nobody seems to know how much, if any, of the wonderful pro bono work that the "old" WHO secured was actually retained -- only the small cadre of McFarlane insiders do, apparently. But Moore's involvement has certainly led many residents to distrust everything that he has touched.
In those two years, no committees were created, nor did any meet. At a glance, nothing of any real substance occurred beyond the highly suspect bylaw development.
Now out of nowhere comes Lennie Chism's proposal to open a co-op grocery in the former Uncle Bill's building. Is it really any surprise that McFarlane is supporting this, regardless of merit, common sense or Chism's sullied reputation, when we know that his M.O. is that the Black community must pull itself up by its own bootstraps, and by his own writings that anything whites do is solely to maintain the existing white power structure?
JNS says: Well, that's fascinating. Of course, the way I heard it verbally, the split by the WHO Economic Development committee was described as something along the lines of a separatist movement, and I've also heard that power and cohesion by this stand-alone committee continues to aggregate, to the point the Economic Development Committee is virtually a rival neighborhood association able to compete toe-to-toe with the McFarlane-controlled WHO machine.
But much of this Willard Homewood stuff is unfamiliar to me, and so I depend on those who have a viewpoint and facts to share these matters in comments.