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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 12:59 am

A little help from their friends

Former board members return to help Phoenix Center turn things around

There will be no more singing around the piano at the Phoenix Center, for a couple of reasons: First, because — well, there never was any warbling around the ivories at this AIDS-prevention and service facility, which is why board members were so angered to discover that the instrument had cost the organization thousands of dollars. Second, the instrument that had become the focus of the not-for-profit’s financial problems has now been sold to a church in a nearby community.

Although the sale of the unwanted, unutilized piano is good news for an agency pulling itself out of a hole approximately $100,000 deep [see Dusty Rhodes, “Phoenix rising,” July 13], the better news is the return of two former directors to the Phoenix Center board. Michael Griffin and Lisa Eden, both of whom had served on the board in the early days of the Phoenix Center, contacted current board members last week after the media reported the resignation of Jack Bishop, who had been executive director of Phoenix Center for about five years.

Bishop resigned while three board members were performing an audit of Phoenix Center finances. Bishop has not been accused of any misappropriation of funds, but he has admitted to opening an American Express credit-card account in the name of board treasurer John Kerstein and forging the signature of board secretary Chris Boyster on Phoenix Center checks.

In an interview, Bishop emphatically denied any wrongdoing. Attempts to contact him by phone and e-mail since that interview have been unsuccessful.

Eden, who was authorized to sign checks and help assemble financial reports in her first tenure on the board, says she knows that Bishop was “doing the best he could for the center” but never felt right about the way in which he handled Phoenix finances. For example, he exceeded the $500 per-item limit on spending and committed the agency to contracts and leases without the signature of the board president.

“Both of those things were being done,” she says. “I wasn’t comfortable with how the Phoenix Center was being run fiscally.”

That discomfort, along with personal issues, prompted Eden to resign from the board in 2002 after about 18 months of service. This week, she accepted an invitation to rejoin the Phoenix Center board.

“There are certain things I feel like I can bring to the board that will benefit the Phoenix Center, and I feel like it’s time for me to come back now,” Eden says.

“I’m very comfortable in the direction that the board is [now] going. They’re trying to be fiscally responsible; they’re trying to do what’s best for the community and for the people we help,” Edens says.

Another former board member, Michael Griffin, will also likely rejoin the board, Kerstein says.

“We were planning on expanding the board before all this happened, because it is too small and needed a little more diversification,” Kerstein says. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the board double in size.”

The board now has six members.

Earlier this year, the board voted to ensure true involvement by requiring directors to attend at least half of the regularly scheduled board meetings in a calendar year. As financial problems arose, the board began to meet more frequently. The members now meet weekly, though Kerstein says that meetings will be less frequent in the future.

“I can’t imagine that the close communication that’s going on right now will ever go away,” Kerstein says, “and I don’t think the close scrutiny of all that’s going on within the organization would ever go away, because none of us ever want to find ourselves in this situation again.”

Not all of the news has been good, however. On Tuesday, Phoenix youth director Roy Pyers announced that he would take a leave of absence of “an indeterminate length of time.”

Pyers is one of the founders of Phoenix Center.

“If it weren’t for Roy, the Phoenix Center never would have been started,” Kerstein says.

Pyers did not return a call seeking comment.

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