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Published: Wednesday, 7/3/2013

Despite conflict, group says festival will go on

Perrysburg Heights Community Association cuts event to 1 day

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
At a meeting of the Perrysburg Heights Community Association’s board, Anita Sanchez-Serda, former board president, speaks with acting board President Steven Kramer. Ms. Serda was voted off the board at the previous meeting. Her removal was among concerns raised Sunday. At a meeting of the Perrysburg Heights Community Association’s board, Anita Sanchez-Serda, former board president, speaks with acting board President Steven Kramer. Ms. Serda was voted off the board at the previous meeting. Her removal was among concerns raised Sunday.
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A version of the longtime festival presented by the Perrysburg Heights Community Association will take place this year, despite personnel changes at the nonprofit.

Ohio’s South of the Border Festival was a fund-raiser for the association, which operates a community center in Perrysburg Township serving area families. A festival has taken place since the early 1990s, but uncertainty swirled after the association’s co-founder Anita Sanchez-Serda, who coordinated the festival, was removed from the board in May.

The association board met Sunday to listen to residents’ concerns and announce it still planned to hold a festival. This year’s festival — to be renamed the Perrysburg Mexican American Festival — will take place from noon to midnight Aug. 10, said Steven Kramer, the board’s acting president.

“We’d like to leave intact the legacy of many successful years of Ohio’s South of the Border Festival,” he said.

Some changes are planned. It will be a one-day festival instead of two days, and no admission will be charged. In recent years, the cost to enter had been $10. Mr. Kramer said music, dancing, games, food, beverages, and raffle drawings will be featured. The festival will be held at the community center site on Jefferson Street and raise money through sponsorships and food and beverage sales, he said.

On Sunday, many in the audience of roughly three dozen blasted the board for its removal of Ms. Sanchez-Serda and other problems. The meeting at times grew heated. Some alleged the board violated its own rules, some citing the process used to remove the association’s co-founder.

In a phone interview before the meeting, Mr. Kramer said Ms. Sanchez-Serda was voted off “because of something she did,” but jr declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality issues. Ms. Sanchez-Serda, in another phone interview, said her removal was a personal attack that appeared related to her typing up a transcript of a previous meeting at which she said closing the center was discussed.

She said the tie-breaking vote that bounced her from the board came from a trustee who did not attend the meeting and voted via telephone.

“It seemed very planned, from my perspective,” she said.

A few weeks later, her daughter Stephanie Serda, the group’s executive director and president, resigned, Mr. Kramer said.

Ramon Perez, a member of the group Latino Alliance who lives in Toledo, told the board it has not been transparent and that has led to questions. “It makes people come to certain conclusions that there’s hidden agendas,” he said. He called for members to examine past actions according to the association’s bylaws and release information to the public.

Mr. Kramer said the group was looking to fill at least two positions on the board. Numerous people expressed an interest in the positions, he said after the meeting.

“Everyone on the board wants to keep the center open and running. We’ve done that every day since our executive director resigned,” he told the audience.

Erica Hehl of Perrysburg takes her daughter to the community center, which she said provides key support to residents. She would like to serve on the board.

“The center is supposed to be about community and about family ...,” she said. “We are the voices. If we aren’t here speaking, then ... there’s no point. Listen to what we tell you because it’s about the children.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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