The La Raza Community Resource Center was passed over for $8 million in government rent relief grants following a series of recent conflicts between executive director Gabriel Medina and staff members calling for a change in leadership.
The money will now be distributed among other grantees, including the Eviction Defense Collaborative, Mission Neighborhood Centers and Catholic Charities.
“My message to the board of the director of La Raza CRC is, ‘You guys need to work on what’s happening in your organization,’” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen at Wednesday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “This is bleeding into the money that goes to the community, the community you serve.”
Ronen emphasized that the Mission would not be without resources, and six of the seven grantees are based in the Mission. “I feel very confident the other organizations listed here are phenomenal. They will get this money into the hands of the people that need it.”
La Raza was also chosen earlier to distribute the first round of rent relief checks, and still has $900,000 to “sustain the La Raza team in serving community members [to] complete the application process from that round,” said Brian Cheu from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.
The cut on Wednesday occured on the same day that La Raza’s Board of Directors released a statement reporting that “a third-party workplace investigations specialist” and “an outside accounting auditor” had cleared Medina of any charges.
“There are no material findings, no misconduct, no policy violations, and no mismanagement,” said the statement. “We stand behind the results and in support of our Executive Director Gabriel Medina.”
The statement added that “the La Raza CRC’s three-fold growth, from managing less than $1M to more than $4M in operations since 2016, has put pressure on our staff team, a situation compounded by the pandemic, increased community demand, and the change from a long-incumbent director to our new leadership.”
Seven of La Raza’s current 20-some employees, however, were not convinced, according to Carl Larsen Santos, La Raza’s legal director and the spokesperson for the opposition.
“That’s not what a hard transition looks like,” Santos said. “In a difficult transition, you don’t have the entire legacy leadership and majority of the staff saying that they have no confidence in the new director.”
At least seven staff members “believe the investigation was biased,” said Santos. “The investigator did not speak with any of the staff who resigned, even though they were among the staff who experienced the most mistreatment.”
“It’s very common that investigators do not speak to former employees, because they’re no longer involved in the organization,” said Krista Mitzel, La Raza’s legal counsel. “They spoke to 15 current employees who are involved in the organization and who have experiences.”
Mitzel also faulted the way dissenting employees brought their differences to the Board of Supervisors. “It was too bad that they went about this in such a public way, when it was really more an internal personnel matter that is typically handled among the staff and the organization itself.”
Santos was among those La Raza employees who aired their displeasure at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “They were basically putting on public record, trying to say that there were no issues, that everything had been done correctly, and that there was no mistreatment of staff or labor violations or anything,” he said. “So, I felt that I couldn’t let that go unanswered.”
For more than half a century, La Raza has provided social services, legal and educational assistance to the immigrant community. Last January, Medina took over as the new executive director from Melba Maldonado, who had led the Center for 25 years.
About a month ago, current and former La Raza employees held multiple demonstrations demanding a change of leadership. The resulting conflict laid bare the intense discontent within the organization. “The great majority of the staff have lost confidence in the ED,” read an unsigned flyer distributed by protestors, quoting Medina’s “precarious handling of finances and certain programs, his mistreatment of staff, and his failure to take responsibility and address any of the problems.“
Over the past month, the situation has continued to deteriorate, both inside and outside La Raza, with today’s Budget Committee meeting as a breaking point. “It’s ruining the reputation of the organization. And it’s incredibly problematic,” said Ronen.