Sunday, November 27, 2022

Be wary of the new LGA

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Walt Lender did right by the LGA. Vice versa?

They called it a merger when the FUND for Lake George and the Lake George Association combined last year. I saw it for what it was: a corporate acquisition. The FUND bought the LGA and didn’t pay a penny.

They acquired the LGA’s enormous list of members, donors and volunteers. They acquired its 136 years of credibility and good will.

The FUND was so aware of the value of the Lake George Association name that initially they tried to steal it. When the FUND began, they called themselves the Lake George Association Fund, hoping people wouldn’t notice the theft. The LGA forced the FUND to stop it.

The FUND, though, never lost sight of its quarry. It took decades, but finally last year the current LGA board caved. It was all in the name of doing a better job of protecting Lake George — everybody pulling in the same direction, yada, yada. But the only direction the potentates want to pull in is the one they dictate.

They want the lake to speak with one voice — theirs.

Not the diversity of voices all passionate for the Lake.

Once the LGA board gave in, there was no fighting it. The takeover by the rich and powerful was fast, ruthless, clinical. The mailed voting form to rubber-stamp the merger arrived like an Exxon shareholder proxy.

The old LGA wasn’t slick. It was a membership organization. We had an annual meeting. We voted. The leadership was accessible. Everybody was respected. It helped represent, build and nurture a whole community.

The new LGA runs from the top-down. It operates behind a P.R. firm. You hear only what they want you to.

Not to say they’re not doing worthy things, like the annual “salt summit” coming next week. Not to say they’re not focused on science and Lake George protection.

But there’s a danger in monopoly, too total a power.

When the merger intention was first announced, I asked to interview separately FUND chief Jeff Killeen and LGA chief Pete Menzies. They wouldn’t allow it.

With all this as background, I was chagrined but not surprised when a reader alerted me last week that Walt Lender, the old LGA’s chief, had been fired by the new LGA. I called Walt and he confirmed it was true. Ever the good soldier, he spoke ill of no one. A quality guy.

Walt was the executive director of the LGA for 16-plus years, hired to succeed Mary-Arthur Beebe when she retired, handling the job until the merger. Consider him a Lake George lifer. He joined the LGA after seven years at Fort Ticonderoga. He and his family live in Ti.

Walt is 56 years old. He and his wife have six kids, ranging from a 20-year-old in college to 13-year-old twins. Who fires a good, capable person in that situation when you can afford not to? Wealth drives the new LGA.

When the LGA “merger” took effect, the FUND’s chairman Jeff Killeen became the new LGA’s board chair. The FUND’s executive director Eric Siy became the president of the new LGA. It was clear from the get-go that the old LGA was second fiddle — and in due time, probably would be accorded no fiddle at all.

Last month, the new LGA said Mr. Killeen and Mr. Menzies would switch seats, Mr. Menzies as chair. So naturally this week I asked to talk to Mr. Menzies — Walt’s old boss — about his firing. Instead the P.R. firm issued me a statement.

It said in part, “Over the past 15 months, since our merger with The FUND for Lake George was finalized, the Board of Directors of the Lake George Association (LGA) has conducted a careful and thorough assessment of our programmatic priorities and a corresponding review of our combined organizational structure…This process has led to the reordering of job responsibilities throughout our organization and the creation of several new staff positions in the programming, community education and development areas, all of which will optimize the LGA’s ability to execute its long-term strategic plan and deliver the level of protection our Lake deserves.

“The restructuring has also, unfortunately, led to the elimination of the Senior Program Executive position held by longtime LGA executive Walt Lender. As someone who has worked with Walt for nearly two decades in my roles as an LGA volunteer, member of the Board of Directors and now Chairman of the Board, I can tell you that the decision to eliminate this position was extremely difficult for our Board, but one deemed necessary. The Board of Directors thanks Walt for his years of dedicated service to the LGA and to Lake George, and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

I told the P.R. firm I still wanted to talk to Mr. Menzies. It said, “He is not commenting beyond the statement.”

Here’s how I read the new LGA. They’re not local, grass roots anymore. They’re a powerful, disciplined corporation, able to define the agenda and even dictate policy to government. Who’s big enough to take them on?

I worry about who’ll speak for the little guy, who’ll see and raise concerns and possibilities the elite can ignore.

What now, I asked Walt Lender. He said, “I’m going to find something that will keep me here.” Hope it’s soon.

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