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Disarray at the Dojo

Original post made on Mar 31, 2016

Hacker Dojo, Mountain View's one-of-a-kind workshop for start-ups and makers, could be facing the biggest challenge to its survival to date. Just weeks before it must relocate to a new space, the scrappy hacker club is dealing with a leadership crisis amid allegations of misuse of funds by a staffer.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 31, 2016, 10:02 AM

Comments (21)

Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 31, 2016 at 11:36 am

It is inspiring to see a whistle blower/ non-profit director find a major defect (say cancer?) in her organization. Too many non-profit directors do not realize that it is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY / and RIGHT under Calif. Corporation statues to look at any corporate document (not protected by medical disclosure or other special exclusion law). All general financial documents are fair game - no Board vote required!
Corporations Code Division 2 either Part 1 or 2 (public benefit "charity" or mutual benefit). Web Link

By requesting to see the financial documents, from both 'the treasurer' and the bank directly, Banerjee fulfilled the highest standards of a director. Protect the corporation, and it's mission, and hold all staff & directors accountable. If every non-profit board had one or two directors that did this, and had even simplified 'yearly ndependent audits' there would be a lot of better non-profits.

The best example of an excellent non-profit 'independent audit' can usually be found in your nearest public school! For about one hundred years PTAs (Parent Teacher Association) has taught its members/local leaders how to do this. And held the local leadership to strict standards. Sticking to high standards 'almost always' works.

Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Mar 31, 2016 at 11:47 am

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

As a member of the Hacker Dojo, this is a sad situation all around.

Posted by kathy
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 31, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Time to grow up, Treasurer is an'honorary' position? So who is filing their tax returns, paying the bills etc?. I am sure their sponsors are not going to be pleased. And why is their domain .com if they are a 501c3 as stated on their website? Web Link

I don't blame Sophie Banerjee for resigning, sounds like a dysfunctional frat house.

Posted by yourmom
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 31, 2016 at 4:12 pm

This is an ego-focused attack on a current employee of the organization. "COULD BE" is not journalism. Do you job.

Posted by Dojo member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 4:38 pm

The article appears to somehow have missed some key pieces of information. I leave it to you to decide whether Mr Klug and Ms Sudarshana Bannerjee's motives are:
1) Brian Klug, a disgruntled previous member who was banned from the premises failed to submit tax returns on time when he was executive director of the organization
2) Sudarshana and Mr Klug were romantically involved in the past
3) Sudarshana applied for the Executive director position at the organization in late 2015, with a salary of around $55,000, but another candidate was selected.
4) During the time of her election and investigation, she was unemployed.
5) She has previously admitted being friends with Marie Knox (who in turn, was hired by her former boyfriend, Brian Klug)
6) Sudarshana resigned just before a board meeting where a conflict of interest vote was on the agenda, stating that no current or former board member would be eligible for a paid staff position (all board members are unpaid volunteers)
7) Sudarshana resigned as soon as she received confirmation of a new paid position, apparently working with the Kamala Harris Senate campaign.

Posted by Dojo member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 4:44 pm

The following items are from the March 7 board meeting minutes from the hackerdojo, which are available to all members of the organization at Web Link
Again, you can decide for yourself whether the Board was obstructing or assisting Sudarshana in the investigation:

Proposal #3:
Sudarshana Banerjee proposed the formation of a temporary task force to inspect the irregularities at the Dojo. She offered to chair the task force. Motion passed 4-­0.

● AYES: Mani Harihara, Dean Mao, Sudarshana Banerjee, Diwakar Cherukumilli
● ABSENT: Tracy Lee
● NOES: None

Proposal #4:
Sudarshana Banerjee requested a budget of $4000 for the task force. Mani Harihara seconded the motion. Motion passed 3­-1.
● AYES: Mani Harihara, Dean Mao, Sudarshana Banerjee
● ABSENT: Tracy Lee
● NOES: Diwakar Cherukumilli

Posted by Dojo member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 5:37 pm

There's most definitely two sides to this story. Was the sole purpose of this article to destroy the Dojo? That appears to be the case. Will whoever reached out to the press with their version of the story continue calling themselves a supporter of the Dojo. Shame on them and their nefarious agenda.

Posted by JustDeserts
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 5:57 pm

"COULD BE" is not journalism. Do you job.
Yes it is. 'Do you job' is not.
The job of uncovering all facts is the duty of the Hacker Dojo.
The job of investigating is an appropriate agency.
The job of prosecuting a crime is the district attorney or other appropriate agency.
If article run short, it left out 2 assaults that occurred at Hacker Dojo
reported to management with a settlement reached and a 3rd not reported because victim did not know the
legal definition that an assault indeed occurred upon that person.

There are some misguided members opposed to story failing to appreciate news is news and
The Truth Will Set you Free -John 8:32

Posted by Dojo member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 6:03 pm

Hacker Dojo is a volunteer run organization. People do their work and volunteer their spare time to help the dojo out for the common good. There are many of us that look at the dojo as their "second chance", to do something cool and be someone useful to the community. There are many of us at the Dojo, that put in more than a honest days work and come up with ideas and work on it. Some succeed and then some fail. We have put our future in the line and also our family's future to work on some idea. To us, Dojo provides a safe nurturing place to work.

The article is the story of a few disgruntled and highly vocal members at the dojo. It does not represent the members of the Dojo.

Posted by Hacker Dojo Information Minister
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 31, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Everything is absolutely fine at Hacker Dojo.

This article represents the opinion of only a FEW PEOPLE -- the reality is that only 85%+ of Members support Sophie! That's less then almost everyone!

Hacker Dojo Board has everything under control. Things have never been better!

Sophie was just a nuisance concerned about things like record keeping, IRS compliance and legal compliance.

Posted by Dojoer
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 31, 2016 at 9:46 pm

I'm sorry, but this seems like hyperbolic gossip from one side of the argument and presented it as objective facts.

> the total amount stolen could be $30,000

1) Calling the money "stolen", when it's possible there simply wasn't any policy mandating a clear separation between personal and business expenditures, provided everything was reimbursed properly

2) Could be? Why not wait for this to be properly calculated before dragging a woman's name through the dirt? It "could be" $50 for all we know.

3) I'm willing to bet good money that the $30,000 figure cited represents the entirety of the Dojo's incidental expenditure.

An extremely disappointing article.

Someone's on the board for three months and her word is treated as gospel? What strings were pulled to get that sort of placement?

Posted by Anon
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 1, 2016 at 2:50 am

Hacker Dojo was just an extended party for everyone to worship King David. Like mouldy bread, it might be time to just compost it.

Posted by Concerned Dojo Member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:34 am

It's telling that Hacker Dojo board members are such minor members of the community that they have nothing better to do with their lives than to come on here anonymously to smear ex-board member Sophie Sudarshana's reputation with unproven and lurid personal life details and slanderous claims.

It's telling because it shows that they can't refute the claims written in the article, so they instead try to "kill the messenger" using classic unethical whistle-blower retaliation tactics - continuing their harassment.

Bottom line: The Dojo Board, after asking Sophie to investigate, realized that it wasn't a small sum stolen - it could be as high as $100K or greater. Then because they then realized they were personally financially liable for the stolen funds - since they were undeniably negligent in their oversight and fiduciary duties - went about to systematically stop and silence Sophie and stymie her investigation.

This Dojo board has undeniably failed the Dojo, the public, and it's hacker community, and has a clear legal conflict of interest. If they were competent, they would have done what other nonprofits do in this situation: hired an experienced law firm to investigate, and then let the firm inform the police and state Attorney General's office, as is required by law. Instead, they tried to cover up and negotiate a secret payback settlement with the allegedly thieving staff.

In fact, Board member Sudarshana alone was put in charge of investigating her Dojo colleagues and former friends for possible felony crimes. She uncovered evidence that other currently paid staff may also be embezzling money. This same staff may have been in an affair with a current board member, and was responsible for nominating current members of the board, and was entirely responsible for overseeing the employee who has admitted to "accidentally" stealing money from the Dojo.

The reality is that this board does not want elections held, because they know they would be immediately fired from their esteemed board positions. This board wants the title on their resume, but refuses to be bothered with real oversight work, and cannot deny their failure to the Dojo, yet still refuse to leave, and refuse to allow the Dojo community simple democratic rights. They've also engaged in spying on members, "confidential" member banning tribunals of their critics, while secretly giving free memberships to their friends and allies - a further form of theft by the board against paying members.

If this board doesn't step away, they will be sued by current members. There are many causes of action, but primarily they will be made to pay back the tens of thousands in member fees (allegedly) stolen under their negligent direction. And the amount to be reimbursed will be any expenditures that they, the board, can't p r o v e with clear and convincing evidence was spent for the benefit of the public or the members. That amount will likely be a very large number. Much higher than $30K. And by law, insurance won't cover them.

This entire situation has gone from bad to worse to unthinkably horrible, in the hands of this board. And all they have to do to diffuse it is let the members who fund the nonprofit elect the board. Yet they refuse. What more needs be said than that?

Posted by Amelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2016 at 7:47 am

Time for a fresh start if you ask me. Off with their heads!

Posted by Steven
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2016 at 8:40 am

I was a member there prior to the huge price increase. I would still go and put some money in the jar, but the $195 was too much. They then added a lower cost, more limited membership, but it was too limited.

There were people that were clearly living at Hacker Dojo, though that problem seemed to be solved.

I never thought that it was a "non-profit" since the fees were so high and there were so many members. But now it seems very empty and turning it around and restoring it to its former glory seems iffy.

The other problem is that EVERY owner of the remaining old tilt-up obsolete industrial buildings is anxious to get permission to tear the building down to build something denser, taller, and that will lease for more money. Throughout Silicon Valley there is a rush to do this before cities realize the negative effects on housing and schools. So entities like Hacker Dojo will face never-ending moves until they can't function anymore.

What Hacker Dojo should do is to find a "sugar-daddy." Look at Amazon's pop-up space in San Francisco which is free to use, and they're motivation is for start-ups to adopt the Amazon infrastructure. Maybe Google or Microsoft would be willing to fund something similar.

Posted by Anonymous HD Members
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Anonymous HD Members is a registered user.

Lots of time spent with finger pointing but no announcement of a final dollar figure embezzlement and if authorities notified to investigate. Disappointed the board is not doing more to come clean. Maybe immunity would allow others to fess up to their deeds.

Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 1, 2016 at 7:46 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I facetiously made a comment about moving the Hacker Dojo to Denver.
I actually have training for operating a small business.
The Checks and Balances are hard for people when the IRS gets involved. Even Board members suddenly resign in the face of an audit, they are the " rats that leave a sinking ship " and they run with their ill gotten boodles.

Yes, an independent outside auditor must " check the books " and make sure the proper income has the proper outgo. I'll bet the Dojo did not even have the basic accounting books to resolve the money issue!

The Steve Nelson response from me: Professionals cost money!

To make this a better non-profit: All the members must kick out the existing management and make sure that the basics of accounting is followed by the NEW Treasurer. IMMEDIATELY. Before the IRS demands an audit of the books AND if their are no books, CREATE THEM properly and go forward from day 1. You do not want checks by the IRS and their TAX COURT. You really don't!
Shame on the people who used the Dojo monies as their personal piggy bank.
If actual books were kept, there records would explain the cash flow. I have seen the results of " loose accounting business practices " and the estimates are far higher than the income for tax purposes.
How do I know this? Not only did my wife and I took the small business course, SHE IS A CPA SPECIALIZING IN TAX MATTERS!
When she finished the courses that gave her CPA license, the IRS was trying to hire her!

Posted by PeakOilAdvocate
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

PeakOilAdvocate is a registered user.

Life is too short to not inject some humor in an otherwise depressing situation:

The Shawshank Redemption - The Scandal is Revealed
Web Link

Telly Savalas is teaching a class on Keeping the Books:
Web Link

Posted by Emily Ramos
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 2, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Emily Ramos is a registered user.

How sad... I love that place.

Posted by AnotherConcernedDojoMember
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2016 at 11:37 pm

AnotherConcernedDojoMember is a registered user.

This is an email sent out by Sophie to directors, copied to Dojo discussion group several days ago. Did the Dojo hire an accountant or consultant since? What about taxes? Or the police?

I suspect there is more going on than we are being told. No one knows how 3 new board members got appointed in September. 1 of the new board members appointed last month got only 3 votes in the January board elections, but is on the board now 2 months later all the same. The only elected board member since Katy resigned in less than 2 months. Sophie was organizing lightning talks every week as a volunteer at the Dojo for couple of years. Cared about the people.

Used to love the place. Yes, this is sad. Remember back in the days when Dojo was about coding and good people. Where have all the hackers gone?

That Hacker Dojo as an organization is doing everything to make sure that we are in compliance with all laws that apply to us - is not something I have been able to verify yet or can say with confidence.

Deeply concerned that the board meeting minutes are not being made available. I have asked for them repeatedly; will expect the minutes, or an explanation as to why they are not being shared, at your earliest convenience. Please understand you have a legal obligation to make board meeting minutes available.

It is our collective responsibility to make sure Hacker Dojo is at all times able to follow the law in letter and spirit.

At this point, here is what I hope the board together will be able to do, and am proposing to the board that we:
Verify our legal and compliance status RIGHT NOW.
Inform regulatory bodies and proper authorities, if there are irregularities that we are required to report, with a proposal on how to fix the same.
Fix the same.
Hire an accountant, and report financial irregularities to proper authorities as expected of us by the law.
Put policies and procedures in place that prevents this from happening in the future.
Keep the community that is paying us their money involved at every stage.
Work together to make sure we have a new home.

It looks like we are facing a lot of challenges at the moment, and here is hoping that the board working together with the community will be able to address the issues successfully.

These are also things I will propose to the board:
Hire non-profit consultants to help the Dojo form a working board with governance procedures and accountability.
Share meeting minutes with the community.
The community be allowed to change the bylaws so that it can be more involved.
We work on absolute transparency on all aspects of the Dojo - and talk to the community what they believe this transparency should be.
We work with the community to define community guidelines and policies on board member responsibilities, member rights and responsibilities, hardware lab usage etc.

The community is what Hacker Dojo is. It is not the board or staff, not a few tables, not an office space.

I continue to remain an ardent supporter of the Hacker Dojo community, and hope to see the Dojo reach great heights.


CC: Operations, Announcements, Discussions

Posted by Anonymous HD Members
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2016 at 5:02 am

Anonymous HD Members is a registered user.

Sophie received 85 votes in her election to board.
Another receives 1 vote yet was appointed to the board.

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