Federal Hill meeting leaves one man in control of neighborhood association

A dispute that began over the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association's handling of Baltimore Grand Prix funds has escalated, with the volunteer neighborhood leaders attempting to oust one another from power, consulting lawyers and accusing each other of libel in widely circulated emails.

Only one member of the board — Ryan Hada, the association president — remains after three others were removed by ballot Tuesday night, as an outside parliamentarian guided planned motions through the voting process. At the meeting, one neighbor invoked Karl Marx, another questioned the length of time a prior speaker had lived in the neighborhood, and the facilitator reminded everyone that they were "not in kindergarten."

Ninety-seven people voted to remove Paul Robinson, Tom Gregory and John Rehmert from the board; seven voted to keep them. There are 223 voting members.

"Tomorrow, I'll be appointing an interim board until regular elections … so stay tuned," Hada said near the end of the meeting.

Gregory said Tuesday that he and his fellow board members would not attend the meeting because they did not recognize its legitimacy. He described Hada as a power-hungry former president.

Last month, board members unanimously voted out Hada and appointed at-large board member Tom Gregory as acting president. "He's trying to take our little nonprofit and turn it into a train wreck," Gregory said of Hada.

But residents at an earlier meeting had voted to call on Gregory and other board members to resign. The public vote at Tuesday's meeting did not ratify the board's decision to remove Hada.

At issue is a struggle over $10,000 in community impact funds that financially beleaguered Baltimore Racing Development Inc. gave to the neighborhood association as compensation for inconveniences the race caused the neighborhood.

Several board members, including Gregory and past president Robinson, had proposed giving the funds back to Grand Prix organizers as they struggle to pay millions back to lenders and vendors, or freezing the funds until the racing company has paid back its approximately $1.9 million bill to the city — a move fiercely opposed by Hada, who wants to use the funds for as-yet-undetermined projects in the neighborhood.

To some in Federal Hill, Robinson has been a polarizing figure, vocally opposing changes in the community such as expanded bars, beer pong games and the painting of an Under Armour logo on Federal Hill itself.

In early November, when The Baltimore Sun reported news of the Grand Prix's troubled finances, Gregory proposed returning the funds to race organizers and said the move could set a "symbolic" precedent that would urge "all other community groups and politicians who received contributions from BRD to do likewise."

Baltimore officials have threatened to end their contract by Dec. 31 with Baltimore Racing Development unless the company pays taxes and reimbursements it owes, and Grand Prix officials have acknowledged that they owe millions to city and state agencies, private companies and individuals. Company officials also have vowed to cover their debts.

In a letter to neighborhood residents this week, Gregory said that Hada circulated "libelous charges" against him concerning the board's dealings with the Grand Prix funds, and denied him "the chance to defend myself" by sending out a newsletter complaining about the board's vote to place the funds on hold.

Moreover, Gregory's letter said that Tuesday night's meeting was not legal. He cited a Dec. 16 letter from lawyer Joseph A. Schwartz III, who reviewed the matter for the board, and called Hada's statements that he had the power to call such a meeting "erroneous." According to Gregory, the next legal meeting won't be until April.

Hada responded to Gregory's email by saying that his opponents had gone overboard with their rhetoric about him.

"I will not dignify these individuals with a response, as their accusations again cross the line of libel and nonsense," he wrote to residents Monday evening.

Before the meeting, Gregory said even if he and his fellow board members were voted out they would retain their positions because the meeting was invalid.

"We're not going away," he said. "We're the legitimate board."

Tuesday night's meeting concluded with residents voting to hand the association's reins to Hada, who told those assembled that the association's meetings would continue on the third Tuesday of January.