San Jose, California–(11/8/09)–At a special meeting of Mennonite Economic Development Associates held in San Jose November 5, MEDA officers announced to some 40 members in attendance that MEDA had reached a resolution with member Bruce Leichty, and that the MEDA Board was dropping its attempt to remove him from the membership of MEDA, Leichty said today.
In exchange, Leichty agreed that as long as his expulsion was not sought he would not distribute materials at MEDA conventions other than as other members might do, “one-to-one,” and that he would voluntarily accept certain constraints on his right under Pennsylvania law to ask for MEDA’s membership register, which contains the addresses of some 2000 member households in the United States and Canada.
MEDA officers and Leichty (who did not speak at the special meeting) gave credit for their ability to reach agreement to a last-minute mediation held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania October 27, under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee Conciliation Service, and mediator Michelle Armster. The MEDA special meeting was adjourned 11/5 after MEDA’s announcement and after opportunity was given for questions or comments; no member spoke.
Events happened fast after he successfully resisted MEDA’s attempt to expel him by committee, Leichty said. On October 20, 2009, MEDA sent a notice to all its members in the U.S. and Canada that it would hold a special meeting in California 11/5 to remove him from membership under the bylaws as they had existed before the Board attempted to confer expulsion authority on a committee.
Leichty then notified MEDA that he would exercise his rights under Pennsylvania law to inspect all former bylaws, minutes, and membership records, and he traveled to Lancaster and presented himself at MEDA offices to conduct the inspection the morning of October 26, 2009. Met by Board Member Alex Hartzler and MEDA outside counsel Stephen Gierasch–who refused to allow the exchange to be videotaped–Leichty says he was turned away that date without most of the records he had sought, and that he began preparing a complaint for filing in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas to enforce his membership rights and was poised to do so on his last day in Pennsylvania.
Leichty says he believes that, notwithstanding the impasse at MEDA’s offices on October 26, some groundwork was laid for further cooperation and trust. MEDA released further records to him, including a list of members, but refused to grant him the right to see addresses or phone numbers or e-mail addresses that appeared along with those names. Leichty says he pointed out to MEDA that his hands would be tied in contacting members about the special meeting if he could not have that information, whereupon MEDA offered to send out a letter–at Leichty’s expense–to all MEDA members with Leichty’s return address. Leichty accepted that offer and a copy of Leichty’s 10/27/09 letter appears here.
The position of the MEDA Board was that Leichty’s inspection rights could be denied because he had a purpose that was “not proper,” according to its special meeting notice. Leichty responded by saying he had never asked to inspect the MEDA membership register for an improper purpose, but only so that he could express concerns to his fellow members about corporate governance and accountability after MEDA first assailed him.
The Board originally acted to seek Leichty’s expulsion September 2, 2009 based on its “belief that Mr. Leichty’s continued membership would be detrimental to the organization” and that “his membership motivation [had] little to do with carrying out the Mission and Vision” of MEDA, said MEDA Chair Mel Stjernholm in the special meeting notice. The first expulsion hearing was cancelled after Leichty gave notice to MEDA that MEDA was proceeding illegally (see article of 9/29/09 appearing below).
It would have taken two-thirds of the vote of those members present at the special meeting 11/5 to remove Leichty. Leichty was to be allowed a half hour to speak in opposition to his ouster at the meeting. Both Leichty’s presentation and a vote were preempted by the settlement, announced by Alex Hartzler at the special meeting. Leichty participated in the remainder of the convention, which concluded November 7.
“Some people have asked me why I want to be a member of an organization where I am not wanted,” said Leichty. “I thought that question in turn raised several other questions, including whether the Board was really speaking for MEDA members, and whether a double standard was being applied to me, but also, why my motivation and support for MEDA’s mission and vision were being challenged just because of positions I took as an independent Christian publisher, advocate and lawyer. So I thought these issues needed to be tested, but I am pleased that the matter could be resolved in another way. And I enjoyed the convention.”
“I urge others to support MEDA, which is doing some very significant work around the world. At the same time, I need for others to understand that I did nothing wrong, beginning with my attempt to display and sell historical and justice-related materials at the MEDA convention in Columbus, Ohio last year, for which I paid an exhibitor’s fee. After that, I did nothing relating to MEDA except chronicle MEDA’s treatment of me.”
“At various points my commitment to alleviating poverty was challenged,” Leichty says. “I felt that this accusation was made by people who didn’t know me. That is not even to mention that there are different ways to try to attack poverty, and I think that some of the information I offer through Good Information Advocates goes to the roots of social injustices and inequalities, and not simply the branches.”
“It’s not a situation of ‘either-or’ but ‘both-and.'”
Leichty says he was not trying to foist his views or alternative materials on MEDA, just offering them to any members who were browsing the exhibit area at Columbus. “Nobody complained to me before MEDA officers came and dismantled the exhibit.”
“Under the settlement, I won’t be trying to exhibit or distribute materials at future MEDA conventions, but I am hoping that God has opened and will continue to open doors and hearts in a different way, to consider information and points of view that may not be reaching us through our mainstream media and church sources, about critical issues of conscience, social and religious subversion, and justice.”