The three remaining board members of The Devil Strip today announced in a letter
that the cooperative altweekly that abruptly laid off its entire staff in October and shut down is likely done for good and they will be resigning effective next week.
A forensic audit conducted by a local firm in the aftermath of the fall's shocking news sought to answer some of the lingering questions of staff, members and readers, notably where the hell did the money go, why wasn't the staff given advance notice of the closing, and was there a path to resurrecting the paper.
Months later, there are only partial answers, and none of them are good.
"Despite securing a pro-bono financial firm to assist with this investigation, we were ultimately unable to access tax statements and bookkeeping records prior to 2020," the board members wrote. "The accounting firm assessed that there would be little value in a financial analysis because there was such limited operating experience after the sale of the magazine to the co-op in May of 2021, and virtually no financial records before the formation of the co-operative in 2020."
It did discover, however, that The Devil Strip is $186,000 in debt, which is $80,000 or so more than everyone initially believed in October.
Other problems popped up and the very structure of the organization, the board members wrote, was a key impediment to doing anything at all.
"While the cooperative structure is exciting, innovative, and has great potential for local news, the bylaws for The Devil Strip Local News Cooperative greatly limit the powers of the board and membership, requiring a simple majority of dues-paying members to reach quorum. That means, under the current structure, we must assemble 356 people in order to move forward with business decisions. This is proving to be an unrealistic expectation and, in fact, we have had two failed attempts to reach quorum through online voting. Without being able to reach quorum, the functions of the board and membership are extremely limited: the organization’s members can’t approve a new board, lower quorum to a more reasonable number, adjust the debt limit in the bylaws (now set at $60,000), or even file for bankruptcy. As the lawyer told us: 'the three board members have no decision-making power on behalf of the co-operative.'”
And with that, they will resign next week, all donations made to a GoFundMe that sought to save the paper will be refunded, and all dues are now canceled.
"We certainly wish our conclusion was different, because Akron deserves high-quality, independent local journalism," they wrote. "Nevertheless, this is the position we find ourselves in today."