By Sabina Mollot
Members at The Players club, whose president recently reached out to them to discuss the historic institution's mounting debts - and ask for donations to help pay them - have also had another concern beyond the financial situation.
At the last meeting of the club in June, which was presented as an annual membership meeting, members also thought they'd get the opportunity to vote on whether or not to keep the president, Johnnie Planco, in place. However, instead of voting, after discussing ongoing club business, when members thought another part of the meeting was about to start, the meeting was simply adjourned.
"Technically, he was not re-elected," said one member, who asked to remain anonymous, "and members never had a chance to vote."
The member added that some people, annoyed about the adjournment, tried to complain, but by then, people "people were starting to drift out and it was chaos."
The crowd, he estimated, had been between 150-200 people, a high turnout, likely due to the still serious concerns that the club could be forced to close its doors.
"That meeting, when there was no vote is just indicative of the governance of the club," said another member.
That member added he didn't put the full blame on Planco. While not voted in again by the general membership, "the board re-elected him."
Another member, however, said many people were angry after the meeting because, "We were assured there would be two separate meetings." Still, there hasn't been any organized effort by members to demand that the vote be rescheduled and the club is currently closed, as it is each year, during the month of August.
Planco, meanwhile, defended the way the meeting was run.
Led by a member who's an attorney, "It all went according to the constitution," Planco said, adding that when the moderator asked at the end of the general meeting if anyone had any additional business to discuss, no one spoke up about a vote.
"I think he was pretty clear when he asked if anyone had any business they wanted to bring up," said Planco, who isn't planning on scheduling another meeting for a vote. He added that as far as he can recall - and he's been a member of The Players since 1985 - no member has ever been voted against. Generally, he said, elections are done through a nominating committee, a general membership vote and then a vote by the board.
In other club concerns, the members interviewed for this article said they were mostly worried about a lack of an operating plan for the club's future beyond soliciting donations to pay for club debts and other expenses, including building fašade work, a tax lien recently sold by the city to a third party, unpaid sales taxes and getting back a prized Sargent painting that was put on loan for a fraction of its cost. As T&V reported in July, the club will have to come up with $315,000 by August 13 to get the painting back from a company called Borro.com. Planco has admitted to members he doesn't know the full extent of The Players' debt, though club watchdog Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, has estimated it to be around $4 million.
Planco recently told T&V he did have plans in motion to save the club, but declined to discuss what they were. He said he hoped to have some good news to announce soon.
This week, he said he expected there to be announcement by the end of the month
Harrison, meanwhile, had said she knew of people who would pledge money to the club if the entire board of officers, including Planco, stepped down, but with Planco still there, last month, she finally threw her hands up.
"Shame on the board of directors for choosing Planco over the survival of The Players," she said in a recent email blast to neighbors, after telling T&V she was giving up on trying to help the club.
This week, Harrison, who was present at the June meeting, said she recalled members being more than just concerned about not getting to vote.
"They were outraged," said Harrison, who's an honorary member, but unlike the others interviewed, spoke on the record. The others requested anonymity since members who speak to the press tend to get booted from the club.
Harrison said the members' anger was because the meeting seemed like another meeting held months earlier, when a newly formed financial committee revealed just how far into debt the club had plummeted. At that time, many members wanted to see The Players' longtime executive director, John Martello, fired, but the board, including Planco, defended him.
Martello was eventually let go in April.
Harrison said while Planco made a "campaign speech" at the last meeting, proclaiming his love for the club, she believes the board's members, including actress Martha Plimpton, erred by keeping him on, along with James Fenniman, one of two vice presidents, who'd been in charge of a financial committee.
"If you're the captain of a ship that's $4 million in debt, how can you say you care if you don't step aside?" she said. Instead, she suggested having one of the club's celebrity members be approached to become a leader or at least the face of the club, to generate some positive publicity and kick-start some investor interest.
As far as Planco's promises of good news to come, one of the members interviewed for this article said if the club does have plans in place, they should be divulged for the purpose of credibility in the eyes of potential donors or investors.
"There are a lot of things they could do. Maybe they're doing them, but it's not getting put in the members' newsletter," the member said. Meanwhile, members have been digging into their own pockets to make donations to help pay various expenses, which, continued the member, "is very nice," but "it's not enough. It's like painting a sinking ship."
A few individuals, however, did say they were somewhat hopeful about the future due to changes at the club that have been made over the past few months, including the departure of Martello. Term limits have also recently been introduced to board positions and club meetings will be taking place more often - ten times a year instead of four. Still, there is some resentment of the club's board members, some of whom have been in place for many years, for enabling Martello's giveaways of rental spaces and other mismanagement over the years that led to its current level of debt. According to one member interviewed for this story, at least one board member hasn't been to a meeting in seven years.
Another concern was that Planco, a talent manager by profession, recently moved his office into a club room known as the Actors Equity Room.
"Nobody was told about it," said one member.
Planco denied this however, saying it was public knowledge that he moved his business into the room, following an independent evaluation of what the market rate rent, which he now pays, should be. Planco said the club president normally occupies an office in the building but that space is in bad shape due to leaks. So to tend to club business while also doing his day job, he made the Actors Equity Room his new office.
Previously, one of the club's two vice presidents, Anne Vellis, had also used that room for what was believed to be work-related reasons.
In other club news, Joe Canela, a longtime employee of The Players and union representative for its waiters and bartenders, said his union has been waiting for years for its contract to be renewed but was optimistic about that happening soon. The club had as recently as two weeks ago faced problems making payroll, he said, but the following week, caught up with the payments. Additionally, a donation by a member of $20,000-$30,000 worth of new computers for club employees has also been made, which would replace an antiquated computer system.
"So at least there's some positive things going on," said Canela.