A judge ruled Tuesday that a group of East Waco residents has no standing to challenge the sale of an Eastern Waco Development Corp. building and dismissed their lawsuit.
The group pursued its lawsuit and sought a temporary injunction to block the sale of the 13,000-square-foot building at 713 Elm Ave. to CrossFit Waco founders Brandon Hancock and Jonathon Shelton, although the sale was completed last year, the building was renovated, used for several months and now is back on the market.
While 170th State District Judge Jim Meyer dismissed the suit, he approved a request by the group — all former EWDC board members — to allow them access to financial records regarding how the more than $400,000 the EWDC received for the building will be spent in the future.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Thelma Evans, Virginia Bowie-Green and Cecil McDowell, said they held a community meeting in August at which the group voted to dissolve the current nonprofit corporation board and replace it with a new president and board members.
The group sued EWDC, its president, Linda Jann Lewis, and board members Lucious New, C.W. McKethan, Wanda George Green, and JSPF, which owns CrossFit Waco health club. The club, which changed its name to Train Waco, announced recently that it is moving from the Elm Avenue location to the QTI building at 300 S. Valley Mills Drive.
After the judge threw out the lawsuit, the group, led by Wannika Muhammad, said that the judge’s ruling will enable financial mismanagement to continue by EWDC leaders. They pledged to appeal the ruling.
Outside court, Muhammad, who withdrew as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, followed EWDC attorney Rick Bostwick to the elevator, shouting that she was going to file a State Bar of Texas grievance against him and place his law license in jeopardy. Bostwick thanked her for the “threats” as he got on the elevator with Lewis.
“We are glad we the case was dismissed so EWDC can get back to providing necessary support and services in their community,” Bostwick said later.
The building at the crux of the dispute is a former Safeway grocery store built in 1953 that had fallen into disrepair. It was donated to the EWDC by Waco businessman Tom Salome in 1998 and was used as a gathering hall, a wedding venue and temporary offices for a variety of ventures.
Bostwick argued that although the plaintiffs are former board members, it has been years since they were involved with the EWDC. It does not give them standing to file a lawsuit or assume any control over EWDC board actions simply because they are citizens of East Waco, he said.
“They have tried to equate dues-paying memberships with being a citizen of East Waco,” Bostwick told the judge. “They are eligible to become members, but they are not members.”
Dallas attorney Frank Fleming, who represents the plaintiffs, argued that his clients are caught in a “Catch-22 situation.” He said his clients cannot become members unless there is a meeting and claimed the EWDC has not had a meeting for at least nine years.
“We are as much a member as anybody is a member at this point,” said Fleming, who asked to call witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing but was denied by the judge.
He said his clients have asked EWDC officials to call meetings so they can participate, but they have received no response from certified letters.
Fleming asked the judge to appoint someone to oversee the finances of the corporation, charging that now that EWDC officials have $400,000 from the sale of the building, “they have carte blanche to do whatever they want to with it.”
Before dismissing the lawsuit, the judge inquired about the money.
Bostwick said the money is in a bank account and “is just sitting there.” He said the only proceeds spent thus far have been to hire a Waco accounting firm to try to regain the EWDC’s nonprofit status, adding that he is working for the corporation pro bono.
“I want to see some measure of control over that money,” the judge said.
Bostwick offered to provide copies of EWDC bank statements on a regular basis to Fleming, which the judge approved.