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Curtains For Three Board Members at Legendary Players Club

By Amy Zimmer | April 22, 2013 2:03pm

MANHATTAN — Three board members exited stage left at Gramercy Park’s Players Club, the legendary actors society that has sunk into crippling debt.

Three officers of the Player’s executive committee resigned last week, board president Johnnie Planco confirmed in an email, in the wake of veteran Executive Director John Martello's recent resignation amid allegations of fiscal mismanagement.

The board's treasurer, secretary and chairman of its managing committee tendered their resignations, club insiders said.

But some members are pushing for more changes.

A group of them submitted a petition Friday night calling for a special meeting within 30 days to discuss the removal “for cause” of Planco, vice president James Fenniman and second vice president Ann Vellis.

Planco declined to comment about the specifics of the petition, but said the board was in the process of setting a date for the meeting.

Regarding Martello's old position, he said, “The board is hopefully approving a search committee for candidates for an office position(s).”

Martello was replaced, in the interim, by board member David Menegon, employees said. Menegon, an Upper East Side marketing executive at the Xerox Corporation, is also president of the Lenox Hill Democratic club and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, who served in Iraq.

The 125-year-old club, founded by esteemed Shakespearean thespian Edwin Booth, lost nearly $3 million over the past nine years, according to a report released last month from the member-led Financial Audit Committee. Bills mounted, payroll was delayed and much of the cash from the club’s bridge loan from a pawnbroker website for one its prized John Singer Sargent paintings has been used up, sources said.

Repair work for its landmark townhouse was halted because of money woes, Planco admitted.

The Financial Audit Committee had chided Martello for poorly running its room rentals, claiming he routinely waived or deeply discounted fees, even when being used by outside parties for profit-making events. 

More than 45 events that had happened at the club didn’t even have files on record, it found, and the committee extended the blame to executive committee officers overseeing him since they were the gatekeepers of the financial information.

“The power bloc wielded by the executive committee is crumbling, possibly out of pressure from members and the media as well as the realization that these people may be facing some serious legal liabilities,” said one member, who asked to remain anonymous. “They’ve completely lost the trust of the membership at large, so what do they hope to achieve by hanging on?”

The member had particularly harsh words for Fenniman and Vellis, both of whom sell insurance to the club, which many perceived as a conflict of interest.

“Somehow one of the oldest clubs for the arts in the U.S. ended up being run by two insurance salesmen," the member said.

Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, who serves as a Trustee of Gramercy Park and is known as the “Mayor of Gramercy Park,” said people from around the globe continued to contact her about helping the club.

But she recently told Planco that she’s been discouraging would-be saviors unless there’s a change in the executive committee.

“[The Financial Audit Committee] let the executive committee know throughout how poorly Martello was running the club.  Their repeated requests for information were ignored, and they got no assistance from the executive committee,” said Harrison, who said most of the 200 members she recruited to the club five years ago left because of lack of services.

A group that claimed to have turned around the 150-year-old Dover Streets Arts Club in London — which, like the Players, faced declining membership — approached Harrison to help the Players, she said. Someone from the Julliard School — which has one of the most renowned acting programs in the world — also reached out and said he had suggestions on how the school could help reinvigorate the club.

“We’re not going to let this place go quietly in front of our eyes,” Harrison said.