Why have Steve and Jennifer Smith put so much time, energy, and money into the EWUA situation?

Until late 2022, I thought that Joe Cohen, Jim Nelson, and Dan Burke were honorable people. I had worked closely with each for several years.  In mid-2022, I began to see things happening at EWUA that concerned me.

As President of EWUA, I should have been able to access any record to make sure that all was working as it should be. Until late 2022, I had trusted that Treasurer Joe Cohen had been responsibly overseeing the financial aspects of EWUA. 

Cohen and Burke decided they wanted to prepare the budget without my involvement. Okay. But, before we went to the Board, I asked to see the draft. 

It was a mess. Cash in bank was off by a million dollars. Columns of data were a mix of hard numbers and formulas. 

What was I to do? I chose to ask Jim Nelson to sit with Cohen, Burke, and myself to go over the budget before it went to the full Board. 

During that process I requested that Cohen and myself be given access to the accounting system so we could see the base data.  

Burke denied that request. Cohen sent me an email asking why we would need that. This raised a huge red flag.  I had thought that Cohen has been monitoring all of the financial activity. I discovered that he did not even have access. 

I talked with the bookkeeper and asked what information Cohen had been reviewing. I discovered that, to the bookkeeper’s knowledge, Cohen had never asked for the bank reconciliations, the list of disbursements, or ever looked at the books. 

What was I supposed to do? I went to the full Board and said we needed a new Treasurer.

Cohen agreed to support Tenar Hall as Treasurer for 2023. Cohen, then, recruited Clyde Duke to return to the Board. Duke had previously decided not to run for a seat in the 2022 election and had left the Board. Officer elections were in December. Cohen nominated Duke in December of 2022 to be appointed to the Board. The Board agreed to do that and, then, at the same meeting, made Duke President.  

Hall took office as Treasurer in January 2023. Her first act was to request access to the records. Denied by Burke. See Hall’s statement. Hall went to the other officers, Nelson and Duk,e to have them help her cause Burke to give her, as the Treasurer, access to the records. They chose to support Burke and questioned Hall as to why she needed access, asking what she would do if she had access. 

Hall went to the full Board. The response of the Board majority was to hire attorney Joel Paisner to investigate whether what the EWUA bylaws said and if they needed to regulate the Treasurer’s access to the records. Cohen proposed a six-month review by the attorney, during which time Hall’s access would be restricted to only seeing whatever Burke gave her. 

The concerted efforts by Burke, Cohen, Nelson, and Duke screamed that something was being hidden. 

Treasurer Hall felt physically threatened. She did not feel comfortable going into the EWUA offices without someone supportive like me going with her. Rather than live in that high-stress environment, Hall resigned. Later, EWUA issued a press release stating that they had removed Hall from the Board. 

After Hall was gone, Nelson said that they had blocked Hall’s access to the books because they were afraid that Hall would go find dirt on Cohen and Burke. But, with the little access she had, she had already found checks that Burke had written to himself. 

I chose to support Hall in everything she was doing. I thought it was the “right thing” to do. The Treasurer should have access to the records.  

I could have gone silent. I could have realized that I was outvoted and done nothing. I could have resigned with Hall. Or, I could try and force the Board to go on record. I made a series of motions, knowing that they would fail but that would cause the group to vote on them. 

That only made them more angry. They, then, became determined to remove me from the Board. I wasn’t playing along.

I could have resigned. I didn’t because they could not legally remove me from the Board. It required the unanimous vote of the Board to remove someone.  Ron Claus voted “no” on the removal. 

They removed me anyway, in violation of the law. I could have continued to go to meetings. I could have continued to vote, but I knew that they would not tell me when the meetings were or where. They would have ignored my votes. I decided to honor their demand that I go away. 

I could have just accepted that EWUA was systematically violating the law on multiple issues. Yet, that would have felt like a failure of my fiduciary duties to the Membership and of the ethics by which I try to live my life. Basically, it would have felt like I was not doing my duty to the community. 

My wife, Jennifer, and I had a very serious decision to make. Will we just ignore the corruption and hope that, someday, things will get better on their own? Or, will we choose to ask the Members to get involved?

We knew that if we chose to publish the Acuity Forensics report that showed serious problems at EWUA, with  the GM and even greater problems with the Board, that we would cause a firestorm.  Yet, together, we decided to proceed with publishing the report. We felt that this was especially appropriate because not only did the Membership have a right to know, Membership money went toward paying Acuity Forensics to look into Treasurer Hall’s concerns.

So, we hired an attorney and made sure that everything we said was accurate, documented, and could legally be shared. We shared this information with the Membership and led the recall efforts to remove directors who were not only failing to perform their fiduciary duties but preventing other directors from performing theirs. In doing so, we have spent over $200,000 to date in order to make sure that what we do and say is defensible. 

Why do this?  Why not just walk away? Why go public? Why endure the intense hatred exhibited by Burke, Cohen, Nelson, and their supporters? Why put in the time, energy, and money it takes to document the facts and to inform the Membership?

It is a question we asked ourselves. We asked friends. It is something that a lot of people wonder about. A common question is: “Why are you doing this?”

We care deeply about the integrity of our key institutions. We believe that if we didn’t say anything, the unauthorized taking of money would continue. The forensic investigator, Tiffany Couch, says in her book (that we donated to the library), The Thief in Your Company, that if you do not stop fraud early, it tends to get bigger with each year. 

We knew that challenging Cohen and Nelson was a serious challenge. Yet, we were persuaded that what they were doing was very wrong. Every effort to persuade them to act with honesty and integrity simply made them more determined to silence those who disagreed with them. 

Our friends encouraged us to go public. The more details and facts they heard, the more outraged they were. 

Before we went public, we asked ourselves repeatedly and in different ways, what our motivation was. We knew that the cost would be extremely high – both financially and, even more importantly, to our reputation and to the reputations of Cohen, Nelson, and Burke. 

I had tried very hard for months to resolve this without going public.  I wrote multiple emails to and held multiple in-person conversations with Cohen and Nelson, discussing what would happen if we went public. Either they didn’t think we would do it, or they didn’t care.  

The price has been high for all involved. Yet, leaving the Membership in the dark was wrong.

It is not revenge that motivates us. Instead, it is a desire to see a critical institution in our community run with honesty and integrity. That hasn’t been happening. This lays squarely at the feet of three individuals. 

It has been a year since we first published the forensic report that showed the problems with the Board. In that year, multiple people have reviewed the documents. Multiple new people are on the Board. Multiple people are also concluding that there are problems. They have each tried very hard in multiple ways to correct the problems at EWUA. Like us, they too have failed. They too have come to the conclusion that the best way to fix the problem is to lead Recall 2024 to remove Jim Nelson and those who are supporting him. 

There are a group of individuals who have run many of the institutions on the island over the years. They know each other. They trust each other. They protect each other. They excuse each other’s lapses. They rally against anyone who threatens to upset their cadre, even if it means defending corruption. 

The only way to defeat that organized network of corruption is for the community to say, “enough.”  

If we, as a community, don’t remove the corruption, it will become more entrenched and become stronger. We prefer to live in a community where the people who run our critical institutions are honest. We have chosen to challenge corruption because we think it is the right thing to do, in spite of the extremely high cost of doing so.