Liquor License Hearing Exposes Internal Rift in Falmouth's Cape Verdean Club

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 12/31/10

Internal problems within the Cape Verdean Club on Sandwich Road reared their ugly head at the selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday night as club members were divided over how their own organization is being run.

This week’s hearing, in which selectmen debated whether to renew the club’s liquor license for next year, represented the latest chapter in the nonprofit’s recent troubles that have sullied its reputation.

Those troubles came to light in November when Falmouth Police Chief Anthony J. Riello asked selectmen to take action against the club after his department had responded over the past two years to 14 incidents that have become increasingly more serious. The latest, in October, led to Falmouth Police Officer Andrew T. Loewen having his nose broken by a patron who kicked him in the face.

In light of these incidents, selectmen suspended the club’s license for two weeks earlier this month. The board had held three hearings related to the matter prior to Wednesday’s, one in which selectmen were to vote on renewing the club’s license after they had requested additional information related to the nonprofit’s operations.

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Founded in 1944, the club's role in the Cape Verdean and greater Falmouth community has shifted in recent years.

 New hearing, old problems

Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Brent V.W. Putnam kicked off the proceedings on Wednesday, bringing forward new concerns he had to club President Wesley R. Leite Sr. and bar manager Roy R. Rose Jr.

One of those issues contradicted statements Mr. Rose made earlier this month, when he said that there were only two members on the board of directors, himself and Helen Gonsalves, when he was appointed the bar manager in 2008. Mr. Putnam said minutes taken of a meeting on December 11, 2008, showed the club actually had six members on the board of directors in attendance.

Mr. Putnam asked Mr. Rose to explain the discrepancy. Mr. Rose said those other members represented an interim board.

“They are still the board of directors,” Mr. Putnam replied, noting that a letter signed by Mr. Rose and Ms. Gonsalves in December 2008 informed selectmen there were only two members on the board.

Mr. Rose explained that because he and Ms. Gonsalves were the only ones registered as being on the board with the state they listed the board as having two members.

Mr. Putnam was also concerned about a petition signed by 21 members of the Cape Verdean Club that expressed no confidence in the current leadership.

Petition "raises red flags"

Robert W. Zeida, the attorney representing the club, said it was an internal matter and should not be part of selectmen’s discussion. He said the club’s current leaders had to “hash that out internally before giving you an answer.”

Selectman Ahmed A. Mustafa said he was troubled that the club did not appear to know where they were going and what they were doing.

“I’m personally not confident about renewing their license,” Mr. Putnam said.

Mr. Zeida said that nothing has changed with the club and its board of directors. He argued that selectmen did not have the authority to alter the membership on the board of directors, something that would occur during its annual elections in January.

He also said the club, founded in 1944, has no debt, pays its bills, and is a fixture in the community, offering the facility for a number of private and public events. He said not renewing the license would cause irreparable harm to the club and may force it to close its doors.

Mr. Putnam said selectmen were not looking to close the club’s doors, but his board does have a responsibility as the licensing authority in town. To that point, he said, selectmen need to have confidence in those holding liquor licenses, but the petition signed by 21 members undermines that confidence.

“It does raise red flags that there are members of the club concerned about the leadership,” he said.

Those questioning the leadership, Mr. Zeida said, represent only 15 percent of its 140 total members.

Club out of touch with its purpose

Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn was worried that the club had forgotten what its purpose was. In the past, she said, the Cape Verdean Club had given out scholarships to high school students, but it no longer does that.

She suggested that the club’s members reflect on what they want the club to accomplish and find ways internally to strengthen its leadership. She said that a change in management may be a good thing.

At the same time she was concerned that not renewing the club’s license could cause it financial harm.

But some longtime club members, including Robert Pena of West Falmouth Highway, urged selectmen to delay a vote on the license until the nonprofit can right itself. He said many members such as himself, who were once active, “have deep, deep concerns about the present management of the Cape Verdean Club.”

He said many of those officers are the reason for the club’s problems. “Not everyone here who is Cape Verdean is in support of the present leadership,” he said.

He called on selectmen to delay their vote for a period of 30 to 60 days on the liquor license so the club can address its problems. Many of the problems, he said, surround alcohol, which has nothing to do with the club’s mission.

“Our mission is to help people,” he said. “I don’t see the mission being fulfilled.”

Ronald Garcia of Fresh Pond Road, East Falmouth, agreed.

A member for 35 years, he has been active in the club as a treasurer, vice president, and president during this time although recently he has not been as active. In light of recent events, he said, there are a group of members who are unhappy with the way the club is being run.

“We are not unhappy for the sake of being unhappy,” he said. “There has been a concern over leadership for the past 10 years. What brought it to the forefront is the number of incidents that took place at the Cape Verdean Club” over the past two years that have required police involvement.

He said he was embarrassed to have to speak to selectmen this week.

As for the club, he said it is bigger than any one person and his main goal was to see its culture and history that those like himself helped build continue.

He called on members to return to the club’s tradition of helping children through scholarships and mentor programs.

“That is what the organization should be doing and what it had been doing up until about a decade ago,” he said.

Confidence in leadership

Mr. Leite’s son, Wesley R. Leite Jr. of Fresh Pond Road, East Falmouth, took offense to the criticism lobbed at his father and Mr. Rose. He said those making the complaints were being divisive and not working to solve the problem.

He also suggested that members like Mr. Garcia and Mr. Pena had no right to criticize current leadership publicly, particularly since they have not attended any of the more recent events at the club.

But other club members, including Veronica Perry, continued to expose the dysfunction within the club. She said her daughter was one of the minors served by those at the club in October when Officer Loewen was injured.

And Kenneth J. Andrade of Sandwich Road, East Falmouth, said over the past two years he has never seen any inventory done of the bar so members do not know what product is being purchased for the club.

Even on the board of directors, said Edwin A. Monteiro of Maravista Avenue, Teaticket, there is divisiveness. He added that there are a few members who make decisions on their own without input of the entire board.

In hearing these comments, Mr. Mustafa expressed disappointment. “It is hard for me to see the club falling apart. There is no need for it,” he said.

Ms. Flynn suggested that selectmen continue the hearing for 45 days, not voting on the renewal of the liquor license until after February 14. This would give selectmen enough time to see how the club will operate after it holds its elections.

“We have to be satisfied that the management and officers can represent the club in a professional and legal way,” she said.

The board agreed unanimously with the proposal, with Selectman David Braga not voting on the issue; he had recused himself because he is a Falmouth police officer and his department was involved in the initial hearing. Selectman Melissa C. Freitag was not present for this week’s meeting.

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