LAMA’s financial problems did not start with president Yahsindi Kpeyei; Blame Leo Mulbah, LAMA’s Board of Directors and Liberians in Metro Atlanta
The Liberian Community Association of Georgia (LCAG) was founded in 1976.
The name of the association was changed in the mid to early 1990s to what it is now: “Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta” (LAMA), to reflect the community’s diversity and regional appeal that many Liberians including this writer – a longtime community activist thought was necessary to move the association forward in the right direction.
One of the complaints community leaders often heard from residents over the decades (in the eyes of the beholder, of course), is the various leader’s inability to show any achievement during the decades the association has been around.
The critics, as bold as they have been often rained insults on the former presidents for what the critics believe is the failure of those former leaders to lead by obtaining a community center to host meetings and archive its vast records.
As the need to secure a community center drips from the lips of residents and community leaders, so is the frustration and the burning desire to meet a dream that has eluded Liberians living in metro Atlanta who are vigorously involved in in their community’s efforts to acquire their center.
The Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA) has had its share of good times and bad times, good leaders and corrupt leaders, dishonest leaders and political opportunists, hustlers and con artists, armed-chair critics and show boaters, and others whose aims have always been to see the community association either fall apart and go into oblivion, or grow as a relevant community association that honestly caters to the needs of its residents.
The late 1990s and the 2000s saw just those kinds of leaders – those that are serious about growth and prosperity for LAMA; and others, well, who ran for president of LAMA to steal quietly from LAMA, or run to Liberia during hard times to beg for government jobs, or run for political office.
The leasing or renting of a LAMA community center finally should have been a celebratory moment; because the task is Herculean, and because of the novelty of such task, which has never occurred in our community. Period!
However, the planning, the negotiations, the community engagements, the leasing, the lies told to get the building at all costs, and the over-the-top $4,600.00 monthly rent divided the community along all fault lines that resembled a shifted tectonic plate waiting to erupt at every monthly meeting.
And yes, those monthly meetings were volcanic.
The nightmare started on May 20, 2014 when a commercial lease agreement between Q & C Investment Inc and the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta was signed to rent the community center for $4,600.00 a month.
How can LAMA, a non-profit community organization that takes in between $200.00 or close to $300.00 a month in meeting dues can afford to pay a monthly rent of $4,600.00? This amount does not even include utilities such as electricity, gas, Internet and water and sewer bills?
For example, between September and December 2015, LAMA’s utility bills (electric, gas, cable, water and sewer and Internet) was $1,338.94. The various utility bills even increased over the years.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that the then-married president Leo Mulbah’s girlfriend, Miatta Boimah, was named Property Manager of the community center.
Nepotism and conflict of interest? You tell me.
Leo Mulbah, the president whose dream it was to get the community center was meaningful at first; but his out of control temperament, his recalcitrance and stubbornness, his derisiveness and talking down at critics, and his personal frailties did not serve him well even as he reportedly embarked on a lonely and opportunistic journey to run for the House of Representatives in Liberia during the 2017 national elections.
However, during the planning stage when he was contemplating getting a building for the community, Leo Mulbah told the Liberian Community and various Liberian county associations that he was in the process of purchasing a stand-alone building that would include offices and a daycare center that Liberians and other nationalities could rent from LAMA.
“That one that lie.”
Mr. Mulbah also told those organizations to contribute $250.00 each so that he will offer them a meeting place to host their monthly meetings. The River Gee Association of Georgia donated $500.00.
Did Leo Mulbah fulfill his part of the deal?
“That one that lie,” also.
During the planning process, however, Leo Mulbah and his friends quickly solicited financial donations from Vice President Joseph Boikai and Mr. Alex Cummings. Both Mr. Boakai and Mr. Cummings each contributed $10,000.
For his financial contribution to LAMA’s community center, Mr. Boakai’s name was emblazoned on the center as the “Joseph N. Boakia Liberian Community Center.” Naming the center after Mr. Boakai was an opportunistic political decision that was made by Leo Mulbah and his allies.
This writer is on record for speaking out and writing against the idea of putting Joseph Boakai’s name on LAMA’s Community Center.
However, according to the lease agreement, $13,800.00 was paid on May 20, 2014 to landlord/CEO Steven Nguyen for security deposit to rent the community center.
After the agreement was signed, Mr. Nguyen, the landlord gave Leo Mulbah and his administration a break not to pay the $4,600.00 rent for six months.
When the first month’s rent of $4,600.00 was due on February 1, 2015 after LAMA was given a big break by the landlord not to pay rent for six months, LAMA had no money to pay the rent for the center.
When LAMA couldn’t come up with the month’s rent, a community member donated close to $10,000 worth of mattresses to help LAMA financially. Although the mattresses generated close to $10,000 in funds, LAMA still couldn’t come up with the first month’s rent.
Mr. Alex Cummings, perhaps eyeing a presidential run in Liberia came to the community’s rescue and paid LAMA’s rent once, and made other significant contributions to LAMA.
LAMA’s problem did not stop after Mr. Cummings’ financial intervention. LAMA began to go downhill financially. Light and gas and water were often turned off.
At times, members had to sit in the cold for hours during meetings with winter jackets on, because there was no heat in the building. Often times, president Yahsindi Kpeyei had to quickly pull all available strings to pay the light bill and other utility bills to begin that month’s meeting.
Yahsindi Kpeyei was elected president November 2015.
The newly-elected president Yahsindi Kpeyei inherited a negative balance of $20,437.53.
However, the election was a highly-contested one that broke the community’s electoral record for participation. Over 1,000 Liberians stood in lines and cast their votes. Some even left in frustration and did not vote because of the long lines.
The November 2015 election generated over $15,000.00. That money was also used to pay overdue rent and utilities for the community center.
President Kpeyei’s inauguration was also well-attended, bringing in little over $21,000.00. The money from the inaugural events went directly to also paying overdue rent, utilities and interest to the landlord, because the community was way behind for many months.
The financial problems that president Yahsindi Kpeyei inherited from the Leo Mulbah administration (problems with paying the center’s rent and utility bills) did not go away. They stayed with her, and she had to deal with those problems throughout her administration.
Unfortunately, some Liberians who claimed to love LAMA did not do business with LAMA. These individuals would rather rent event halls elsewhere instead of supporting LAMA, when LAMA was hurting financially.
There was also power struggle, confusion, finger-pointing, tug of war – you name it between President Yahsindi Kpeyei and her Board of Directors. Why? You ask them.
Is the president also at fault in the demise of the community center? I don’t think so. Yahsindi did her best. Leo Mulbah and the Board of Directors did not work with the lady. They failed to provide needed leadership.
A heavy lifting fundraising dinner was held in 2015. An amount of $3,500 was raised to help pay March 2015 rent. Another fundraiser in 2015 raised $700.00. President Mulbah’s mother, Ma Zoe even cooked weekly meals to help raised funds to pay the utilities for the center.
Several other emergency meetings were held to raise money to keep the community center. The meetings in 2017 raised between $200.00 to $350.00, which was insufficient to pay the back rent of $23,000.00: (2 months of $4,600.00 owed for breaking the contract, plus 3 months of $4,600.00 owed in back rent). A total of $23,000.00.
The last emergency fundraising drive was held January 14, 2017. LAMA raised $350.00. Desperate to pay the back rent, which was overdue, LAMA was forced to sell the association’s van for $3,500.00. Total amount raised that day was $3,850.00, which did not meet the two month’s rent of $9,200.00 that the landlord requested for LAMA not to be evicted.
During the time Yahsindi Kpeyei was running around the place looking for help to have the back rent paid, her administration contacted Vice President Boakai and Mr. Alex Cummings for financial assistance. All efforts to get the individuals to provide financial assistance to LAMA failed.
As large as Liberians are in numbers in metro Atlanta, Liberians in metro Atlanta couldn’t pay their monthly membership dues to LAMA, or rescue their community center.
With all these financial problems facing LAMA, and LAMA falling behind in rent, it didn’t take long for the landlord to begin eviction proceedings.
The landlord sued LAMA to move out. LAMA moved out of the Joseph Boakai Community and Cultural Center on January 20, 2017. This writer and other Liberians worked in the rain on that Saturday morning of January 20, 2017 to help Yahsindi Kpeyei move LAMA’s properties to the storage. The moving effort lasted for about 10 hours.
LAMA’s properties are now in the storage.
LAMA went to court on February 8, 2017.
From what I understand, there is ‘continuance’ in the case.
Can you blame Yahsindi Kpeyei alone for LAMA’s financial problems?
Blame Leo Mulbah, LAMA Board of Directors and the Liberians in Metro Atlanta.