HUMBOLDT PARK — A power struggle that landed the Puerto Rican Festival's governing leadership in court has been settled just in time for the annual Humboldt Park event and its compantion, the 37th Annual Puerto Rican People’s Parade, typically scheduled for Father's Day weekend, according to court documents and the parade committee's lawyer.
But more than $40,000 in legal fees were drained from the committee's coffers in the meantime — funds spent to settle a dispute between two men who both claimed rights to the organizing committee's top leadership position.
It's money that could have been spent on the festival — the city’s largest celebration of Puerto Rican community and culture — according to Edgar Vega, an attorney for parade committee president Angel "Tito" Medina, whose tenure was reaffirmed by a Cook County judge June 2 after opposing lawyers and a group of plaintiffs seeking to unseat him alleged “mismanagement” on behalf of the current leadership.
This month’s decision follows years of infighting since the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago, which formed in 1964 to oversee the former downtown Puerto Rican Day Parade, was merged in 2013 with the Puerto Rican People's Parade, which is charged with planning Humboldt Park's annual Puerto Rican parade.
It also follows a lawsuit filed in 2013 alleging financial and managerial misconduct by Medina and former committee staffers, including misuse of loans granted by Medina's wife and loans being repaid at "an unreasonably high rate of interest." Vega denied the allegations.
The suit also claimed Medina's term as president was supposed to end in September 2012 — a claim that was repeated in April of this year when Humboldt Park residents and other members of the Puerto Rican community say they voted to install a new president, Jose Echevarria. But the judge's ruling invalidated Echevarria's election.
According to Vega, that ruling settled another point of contention over whether anyone with Puerto Rican heritage is automatically a member of the committee, a long-standing policy that's written into the committee bylaws. The ruling also invalidated that provision of the bylaws, Vega said.
Vega said that means the group suing Medina has no standing to sue, since they're no longer officially members of the committee simply because of their heritage.
“They never paid dues — no ‘member’ has ever paid a penny,” Vega said. "There's no membership list, but we're being sued by 'members.'"
The organization is a revolving door "built to dissolve" every two to four years and currently has no members, according to Vega, but such continual changing of the guard is one of the group’s core problems.
"No other organization in the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, or possibly the globe, allows the election of chief executive to be put to a popular vote. It makes no sense," Vega said. “This is what is really killing the organization: the structure. It’s always been that way.”
Still, attorney Peter Bustamante says he will file a new suit on behalf of Medina's opponents. The next round of official elections are scheduled for Sept. 13.
The 2015 Festival
The festival also has financial issues, despite a yearly fee waiver to the cultural institution for use of the park.
According to a 2014 Park District Special Event application, a $150,000 fee to use the park is waived, as is nearly $21,000 for the security deposit. But the committee remains $50,000 in debt to the city for costs such as traffic management services during past festivals, Vega said.
The Puerto Rican Parade and Festival also took a hit when Riot Fest was booted from Humboldt Park last month, Vega said. Riot Fest “gave generously” to the committee, he said. A mutual agreement of support would have funneled “a nice little check for $50,000 that the [Puerto Rican Parade Committee] desperately needed” before the three-day event moved to Douglas Park this year.
Without Riot Fest's support, the committee uses funds from sponsorships and a yearly carnival to pay the costs to operate the event.
Even so, city park permits for June 12-23 were listed as “tentative” this week, even as the fest kicked off Thursday and the parade was scheduled for Saturday, but the festival will be the same size and duration as in years past, Medina said.
Meanwhile, a long-term strategy will be needed to ensure the whole event continues in Humboldt Park for years to come, Vega said.
“We need stability,” Vega said. “It’s a miracle that this takes off every year.”
The festival is scheduled to run from 3- 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The 36th Annual Puerto Rican People's Parade on Division Street. [DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali]
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: