A heart once nourished - Page 6

A murder in front of children leaves Ella Hill Hutch Community Center reeling

The Knock Out Posse, for instance, is evaporating, they say.

Paris Moffett, a 30-year-old alleged Eddy Rock leader, told the Guardian in a separate story on the gang injunctions last November that he and others were organizing to quell violence in the neighborhood and would do so in defiance of the gang injunctions (see "Defying the injunction," 11/28/07).

But on the day that story ran, Moffett hampered his new cause when, according to a March 27 federal indictment, police arrested him in Novato for possessing a large quantity of crack and MDMA, as well as a Colt .45 semiautomatic.

After Lefty Gordon died, the center went through a couple of directors in relatively short order. Robert Hector, a second-in-command to Lefty Gordon, helmed the center briefly; he was replaced with George Smith III, who left in 2007.

Meanwhile, problems at Ella Hill grew.

"The seniors just stopped their participation," Anita Grier, a former Ella Hill board member who first ran for the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees in 1998 at Gordon's encouragement, told us. "Things were never excellent, but they just got much worse once [Gordon] was no longer director."

The center, a standalone nonprofit, had long struggled financially in part because it relied so much on contracts and grants from the city rather than pursuing funds from private donors. Mirkarimi says Ella Hill's structure is unlike any other community center in the city. Many other centers are directly maintained by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

Contract revenue from one Ella Hill program, such as providing emergency shelter to the homeless, was often diverted to keep another on life support or to simply cover the center's utility bills.

By early 2007, the center faced a financial catastrophe. Donald Frazier joined Ella Hill's board as president in January 2007 and embarked on a reform effort to turn the center around. He commissioned what came to be a blistering audit that revealed the nonprofit owed over $200,000 in state and federal payroll taxes. As a result, the center faced $63,000 more in penalties and accrued interest.

Mirkarimi blames community leaders in his district for refusing to acknowledge a crisis at the center and for not turning to City Hall for help when Ella Hill appeared to be slowly rotting from the inside out.

The mayor's staff, he adds, wanted to believe Ella Hill was working on its own and should've continued to do so because, despite its financial reliance on the city, it was technically an independent nonprofit. In reality, Mirkarimi said, "They were afraid to piss off black people, is what it comes down to. They were afraid to tell it like it is — that things weren't working."

Sending delinquent invoices to the city, failing to institute reasonable accounting standards, and falling far behind on its payroll taxes all threatened the government contracts and grants that kept San Francisco's Black City Hall afloat. By extension, the audit concluded, that meant Western Addition residents who relied on Ella Hill were "victimized" by the center's improper use of its limited resources.

Aside from the audit, which Ella Hill instigated itself, there's no indication in the records of agencies funding the center that any problems were occurring, which implies the city wasn't paying attention.

"As far as I'm concerned," Mirkarimi said, "we had a renegade institution, and the only reason it wasn't renegade in an illegal sense was because the lease allowed them to have a parallel governance structure.

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