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Questions Swirl about Jacksonville YOUNG DEMOCRATS President’s Spending of Group Funds

JYD President denies misappropriating funds for personal use

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The Jacksonville Young Democrats are embroiled in an internal conflict over the group's finances, specifically how JYD President Kristellys Estanga has spent its funds.

Estanga declined to be interviewed for this story. At her request, all questions were sent to JYD Communications Chair John Aloszka via Facebook messenger. Through Aloszka, Estanga denied any wrongdoing.

Late one evening last week, while on a trip to Dallas, Texas for the Young Democrats of America annual convention, Estanga sent an email to the JYD executive committee asking it to authorize expenditures for Lyft fare. Following what Aloszka characterized as a heated conversation, the committee approved it.

But the last minute request did not sit well with some and gave rise to further questions about how Estanga has been handling JYD's funds. For some time, there have been grumbles that Estanga has been soliciting, receiving and appropriating donations without informing other members of the group or depositing said funds into the JYD account.

"We don't know who she talks to, what donors she talks to... We don't know what's been going on with our money," said JYD Field Director Cecelia Zucconi, who is an appointed member of the executive committee.

Those questions came to a head at the JYD meeting on Wednesday, August 16.

"During the treasurer report, she mentioned that the president had made Lyft charges and there was some debate on whether or not that was appropriate, and we felt that an audit should be called," Zucconi said. "There are a lot of charges out of town for Lyft and things like that," she later added.

At the meeting, which Estanga did not attend, JYD voted unanimously to audit its finances.

Aloszka said that there was simply a "misinterpretation" among some regarding what the group's bylaws require for travel expenditures. "[Estanga] emailed the board to approve one Lyft request as a courtesy, as these kinds of requests only need the president, treasurer and vice president's approval, per our bylaws," Aloszka said.

He said the group had needed an audit for a while to track how it was using a $5,000 grant to get out the vote and characterized the decision to conduct one as equally driven by that necessity.

"There has been no wrongdoing by any of our board members, these processes just happen to coincide," he said.

But others question the timing of her request to authorize charges, noting that it occurred later in the evening (Aloszka said she emailed the executive committee at 9:35 p.m.) and that in this instance Estanga was traveling with a fellow member of the group, whereas she had traveled alone on at least two previous trips in recent months.

There are also some concerns about her soliciting funds to pay for trips in the first place, several saying that it has historically not been one of the ways the group utilizes funds. Zucconi said that part of its motivation for the audit is to determine if any of the $5,000 grant JYD received to get out of the vote has been improperly spent. If so, the group, which she said currently has approximately $4,000 in its account, could be obligated to return such funds.

Several people who asked not to be named for this story said that Estanga has accepted and spent cash donations intended for JYD, including for personal expenses, and without providing an accounting, a charge she flatly denies.

An individual familiar with Estanga's fundraising, who also asked not to be named, said they had personal knowledge of her soliciting and receiving donations totaling at least several thousand dollars that may not have been accounted for. "Indeterminate amounts of money have been coming in in cash ... and not always reaching the JYD bank account," they said.

The person said Estanga is "not afraid to ask" for money. "Shameless might be the right word," they said.

The individual noted that they had no reason to suspect Estanga of misdeeds, just mismanagement. "It looks more sloppy than anything," they said.

The contentiousness of the debate about Estanga's expenditures was so intense that prior to Wednesday's meeting she told some members that she intended to resign. Instead, she did not show up for the meeting, arriving afterwards to speak with the executive committee.

"[Estanga asked] the board if we wished to have her resign, and left our group chat for a period of time to let the discussion calm down a little bit. But she never formally sent in a resignation letter nor does she intend to resign," Aloszka said.

Through Aloszka, Estanga characterized the conflict as essentially a witch hunt by those seeking to seize control of JYD.

"She is aware of these allegations and they are completely untrue. Those who wish to believe this narrative are lying for their own personal political gain. These conversations are nothing but noise and distract us from the important work we do."

3 comments on this story | Add your comment
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DialloSekou

Wow! Being ahead of organizations my first question is, how did this internal issue make it to the public? My second question is, why isn't this being handled internally? And third question or observation is , there seems to be somewhat of an agenda here. After reading this article 3 times what stood out was , "He said, She said, Un named people, "supposedly. ..." this reads like someone attempting to start a fire in the rain. The Democratic party young and old must more than ever at least create a united front! In the book Trade and Hope there's a chapter called Economic Depression, its speaks on method's used to deal with such iasues. The Young Dems were winning until you place your business into the public. If their leader can raise funds , spend funds while meeting their deliverables then she may be the future of the city and a follow up to this article may need to be written. Sunday, August 20, 2017|Report this

MattKillen

This is a story about people who can't read bylaws. More than anything, it's a story about the atrocity in our education system when it comes to civics.

I was on the executive board whenever we made this decision about travel. It's really simple. All you have to do is read it.

It's really sad that someone didn't just comb through the 10 pages of by laws, would have kept them up all night, instead of trying to tarnish the reputation of someone who is actually working for change in Jacksonville.

This is why Democrats never win. Sunday, August 20, 2017|Report this

MattKillen

Statement from the Jacksonville Young Democrats Executive Board Regarding Allegations of Misuse of Funds

Jacksonville 8/21/17 - The allegations facing Jacksonville Young Democrats President, Kristellys Estanga, are incorrect. Not now, nor ever, has President Estanga used JYD earmarked monies for personal use. No rules have been broken, no money has been mishandled. The full audit of JYD finances will show this.

The JYD bylaws explicitly state that the only three board members who can authorize spending are the President, Vice President, and Treasurer. Our Parliamentarian has interpreted our bylaws extensively. Thus, the sums of money spent on transportation at YDA and other YD related events was allowed. Furthermore, allegations of using “cash donations” for personal use are absurd, as JYD donors only donate in check form.

The board has known who JYD’s largest donors are, especially regarding transportation. President Estanga tirelessly works to make sure that the Jacksonville Young Democrats has enough money to maintain its award winning work, and has never solicited funds for JYD and then used them for personal expenses.

In fact, the elected board is proud of the work we have done under President Estanga’s leadership, which has earned JYD the Chapter of the Year award from the Florida Young Democrats at their 2017 Convention. Here are just some ways JYD has been able to provide opportunities for our members by enlisting the support of donors who understand the value of investing in young Democrats and, in turn, our Party:

JYD brought the most members to canvass for a City Commission race in Gainesville in 2017 and was able to provide gas reimbursements for members--an expense that was approved per the by-laws. This was a successful canvassing event and our endorsed candidate won the race. Cecelia Zucconi and Cameron McCall were among the members who benefitted from this opportunity

JYD was successful in procuring sponsorships for the participation of two of our members in the first round of Leadership Jacksonville’s Nonpartisan Political Campaign Seminar. Thanks to the gracious donors who understand the value of supporting the next generation of Democrats.

JYD was again successful in giving young Democrats from Jacksonville the opportunity to attend the Florida Democratic Party’s largest fundraiser of the year which is always unaffordable for our members. Leadership Blue was attended by our Executive Board as well as members of our chapter. The greatest return on investment of this trip was the opportunity for Cecelia Zucconi, our Field Director, had to present the great work JYD is doing with its Voter Engagement Project. This was presented to the Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, President Sally Boynton Brown, the entire FDP State Committee and many other Democrats from across the state. JYD is able to execute this project with funds from a FDP grant that was awarded to ten groups in the state--JYD being the only Young Democrat chapter to receive it.

JYD was able to support the travel of its President and Vice-President to join the Florida delegation to the Young Democrats of America convention this year. The connections JYD made on behalf of both the state and their local chapter are invaluable to the development of a strong Young Democrat network across the South. This trip also allowed JYD’s President to get closer connected to the national Hispanic and Black Caucuses and provided support to a resolution which called for a disparity study within YDA to look into issues of diversity along race and ethnicity. This level of engagement could not happen otherwise and is crucial for setting the stage for members to engage on a regional basis to influence politics not just in Jacksonville and Florida, but across the South as the connections open up doors of opportunities for engagement for the chapter as a whole.

JYD financially covered the Jacksonville delegation to the Florida Young Democrats 2017 Convention thanks to donations from a sponsor. Members of the Executive Board, the appointed board, and the chapter were able to reap the benefits of this. During the Convention, members learned about various issues from a policy perspective and our Field Director, Cecelia Zucconi, was elected Northeast Florida Regional Director for FYD.

Finally, through the relationships President Estanga has developed, JYD was able to provide free stay for the Jacksonville delegation to FYD Lobby Days 2017 in Tallahassee. This benefited members of the Executive Board, appointed board, and the chapter as well as a student from Terry Parker High School who President Estanga identified as an individual with great potential who would not have a chance to attend. The Terry Parker student has been working on a campaign to have high school curricula teach African American History as a requirement. President Estanga intentionally highlighted his work at every lobby meeting with House Representatives and Senators. This gave him an opportunity to develop his presentation and lobbying skills. It was a unique opportunity for him and JYD is proud to have played a role in his development.

President Estanga is skilled in fundraising and does it for very specific purposes: to afford members the opportunities to engage in all of these activities that JYD members would not otherwise be able to afford. These activities are crucial to the development of a Democratic bench in Jacksonville and Florida.

The Jacksonville Young Democrats financial audit, coupled with a retooling of the bylaws will fix any remaining qualms that any members may have regarding how sums of money are handled by the board. But make no mistake: no rules have been broken, no money has been mishandled.

Monday, August 21, 2017|Report this