In an effort to draw attention to their concerns about the operation of the Prince George's County Boys and Girls Club, a group of club members from southern Prince George's expressed their dissatisfaction with the organization at a recent public meeting of the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission.
The group was led by Michael Horwatt football commssioner of the Allentown club, one of 33 member clubs throughout the county. Horwattcharged, in a prepared statement, that "gross inequities" exist from club to club. Horwatt distributed the statements to the 10 commission members as they sat at individual tables discussing different aspects of commission business with county residents.
"Some clubs are very big and rich with fine Parks and Planning (Commission) facilities while other clubs (are) small, practically bankrupt and struggling to survive," Horwatt said.
Horwatt's statement added, "There is a great animosity and bitterness between the member club(s) and the parent organization" because the 56-member board of directors in "an arrogant, unresponsive group looking out for the members of the big clubs which number about 10."
Horwatt recommended dissolving the present board of directors and replacing it "with a representative group made up of the presidents of the individual clubs or (their) designees."
Horwatt also asked the commission to supervise club activities more closely. Joseph W. Vernon, executive director of the club, is an employe of the commission and operates the club as part of his job, which is to oversee all Prince George's County sports programs.
Extensive concern about the operation of the Prince George's Boys and Girls Club surfaced recently, focusing on the organization's bidding procedures for the right to sell balls to clubs, the frequent failure to provide game officials for which clubs contribute funds and allegedly lax attitudes toward discipline problems.
Horwatt's major complaints centered on club boundaries (formed 14 years ago), fundraising difficulties, the use of Parks and Planning facilities by some clubs bot not others and an allegedly unresponsive board of directors.
Vernon was at the commission meeting when Horwatt began speaking to one of the commissioners and the two men had several sharp exchanges.
"Have you talked to the board?" Vernon asked Horwatt at one point, referring to the board of the Prince George's County Boys and Girls Clubs.
Horwatt said he had talked to two board members, including President John Brennan, but had received little attention. "People have told me they get no help there (with the board,)" Horwatt said. "Everyone told me not to waste my time with the board. They're more interested in their own empire than the (boys and girls) clubs."
Brennan said he had talked to Horwatt and invited him to attend a board meeting earlier this month, but Horwatt declined the invitation.
"Who are the people he represents?" Brennan asked. "Nobody writes to me with those complaints."
"Who governs the board of directors?" Horwatt asked Vernon.
"The board of directors governs the board of directors," Vernon respondend.
"Then you're talking about a clique," Horwatt said. "Some clubs are crumbling under their leadership."
Horwatt said the Allentown club, which draws from members from one of the smaller membership areas, has had trouble competing in sports because it is often pitied against the clubs that draw from larger areas. "It's like the other teams are Notre Dame and we're Howard University," Horwatt said.
Financially, smaller clubs are also suffering, Horwatt said, because they do not have a large enough membership base from which to collect dues. Raising extra funds is also a problem for Allentown because "we don't have a shopping center to hold a carnival or some other big fundraising event like that," Horwatt said.
Horwatt told Vernon his clud had asked for a club in a neighboring town "if we could use their shopping center for fundraising" but "they said no," indicating Boys Club policy prohibited fundraising in another club's jurisdiction.
Vernon said, "You have fundraising activities (in another club's jurisdiction) with their permission." Vernon also said that boundary changes must be agreed upon by all clubs involved.
"How can you change any of these things if one group already has what they want?" Ralph Corrado, president of the Allentown club, asked after the commission meeting.
Horwatt noted that his club has no field operated by Parks and Planning available for use, while other clubs do. Allentown, Horwatt said, uses pivately owned vacant lots that the club pays to maintain.
Following the public exchange, Horwatt and Vernon met in private.
"Vernon said I had all my facts wrong," Horwatt said several days later. "I made more accusations and he made more denials and excuses for the board. He said Parks and Planning doesn't have a thing to do with this."
"I didn't discuss any of the charges with him, "Vernon said in response. "He must go through the board of directors. I don't have the slightest idea about what he was talking about."
Horwatt said he hopes to meet in October with Hugh Robey, the head of the Parks and Planning Commission, and the Prince George's County Boys and Girls Club board of directors.
"I'll recommend that several members of the board retire," Horwatt said. "I'm going to keep putting the pressure on them until things change."