The adobe EcoVersity sign still stands off of Agua Fria Street just south of Osage Avenue for all to see. But the seven-year-old schoolâ€™s status is once again under debate.***image1***
Critics of the schoolâ€™s board of directors launched a Web site on March 20 (RescueEcoVersity.org). The site aims to draw attention to a petition drive organizers hope will launch an investigation of EcoVersity. It would do so by invoking a rarely used section of the state constitution that allows citizens to convene a grand jury.
The ongoing petition effort requires signatures from 2 percent of the countyâ€™s registered voters in order to proceed to a grand jury; in Santa Fe County, that amounts to more than 1,700 signatures.
â€œWe are a grass-roots movement of citizens who would like to see EcoVersity and Prajna Foundation restored to the promise both institutions have for assisting the people of Northern New Mexico to embrace a more sustainable way of life,â€? according to the Web site.
The Web site details a variety of concerns about the management of the school.
EcoVersity and the Prajna Foundation were both founded by the late Frances Harwood. The nonprofit EcoVersity was founded as an educational center focusing on ecological and sustainable living.
Claude Convisser, a lawyer and former student at EcoVersity, who is leading the petition effort, alleges that both groupsâ€™ boards â€œhave allowed EcoVersity to descend essentially into a nonfunctioning entity.â€?
According to Convisser, roughly 500 signatures have already been collected.
â€œWeâ€™ve asked the board members to resign before going public with our campaign,â€? Convisser says. â€œWe gave them several weeks to resign and that follows our earlier overtures dating back a year to get [Board member Thomas J Harbour] to resign.â€?
Last year, the school was mired in internal strife after its core faculty resigned and much of its courses and workshops were canceled [Cover story, Feb. 28, 2007: â€œThe Green Divideâ€?].
More than 20 former instructors have signed a letter requesting an investigation.
Convisser says heâ€™s also contacted the state Office of the Attorney General.
Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for Attorney General Gary King, confirms that the office received the first complaint pertaining to EcoVersity last August.
â€œIâ€™m told there are multiple complaints,â€? Sisneros tells SFR. â€œAt this point, itâ€™s just in the inquiry stage,â€? he adds. He says he canâ€™t say when or if the attorney general will pursue the request.
Christine Turner, registrar of charitable organizations for the Attorney Generalâ€™s Office, confirms that both EcoVersity and the Prajna Foundation fall under the officeâ€™s jurisdiction. Investigations can be launched, she says, â€œif thereâ€™s reason to believe that theyâ€™re not operating in a charitable manner.â€?
Neither Harbour nor fellow board member George Clark returned messages seeking comment for this story. But John Boyd, an attorney with a law firm representing Harbour, describes Convisserâ€™s allegations as â€œutterly false.â€?
Boyd also, in a letter to SFR, noted that the firm had thoroughly reviewed and investigated Convisserâ€™s complaints to the attorney general and concluded all were false. He also provided to SFR an extensive letter to the Attorney Generalâ€™s Office refuting all the claims.