Hmong nonprofit election dispute lands in court

  • Article by: LORA PABST and ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 9:03 PM

An ex-board member has filed suit to get votes counted that were cast during a December snowstorm.

A former board member of a local Hmong nonprofit is asking a court to intervene in the organization's December election, which spurred complaints and "threats of violence," according to court records.

Pheng Lee, also known as ChuPheng Lee, filed a petition on Friday in Ramsey County District Court against the Lao Family Community of Minnesota Inc., a prominent social service agency serving the Hmong community. The group is one of the main sponsors of the annual Hmong Soccer Tournament and Hmong New Year festival.

Lee declined to comment on Friday.

Lee, whose term as vice president of the board ended in late December, is asking the court to order the St. Paul organization to count votes that were cast in December on the day of a severe snowstorm.

Instead, members of the organization have rescheduled a new election for board members to be held on April 23, according to a letter from the Lao Family Community's executive director in Minnesota. Lee's action also seeks to stop that election from being held.

"It was agreed that the ballots would be opened and the results announced on February 13, 2011," Lee said in court documents. "Due to threats of violence the ballots were not opened on February 13, 2011."

But Lao Family Community's attorney says there was no such agreement.

The plan was to hold a new election because of several problems with the last one, said the attorney, Richard Malacko, who noted some candidates may not have been eligible for the ballot.

"Some of these individuals perhaps did not satisfy the requirement of living in Minnesota. Or perhaps have not served a previous term as is required," he said.

Also, several longtime members of the organization reported that they came to vote but were turned away, Malacko said.

The controversy over the December election has been brewing for months.

"It's getting a little silly when individuals are bringing lawsuits for a volunteer position," Malacko said.

The organization's letter said that because of the conflict over the election, two-thirds of the organization's members voted March 12 to disregard the December election results. In his suit, Lee said the bylaws of the organization do not allow members to make such a decision.

Lora.Pabst@startribune.com • 621-673-4628 Allie.Shah@startribune.com • 612-673-4488

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