Last year six members of the Hindu Temple Society of North America,...
By Alexander Dworkowitz
The 17,000-member Hindu temple in Flushing is going ahead with its plans to expand after a judge ruled that the temples board of trustees can remain in control of the organization.
Last year six members of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, which claims to be the largest Hindu temple in the country, filed a lawsuit contending the worshipers did not have a fair say in the operation of the temple.
In February, a Queens State Supreme Court judge ordered the temple to change its bylaws. He kept the board of trustees in command of the group, effectively allowing the temple to continue with an estimated $4 million expansion plan, which the petitioners had sought to block.
Judge Joseph Golia left the future shape of the governing body of the institution unclear. He did not grant the petitioners request to disband the board of trustees and hold a new election.
Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the temple, said the board of trustees was pleased with the ruling.
We were very happy, she said.
At issue in the ruling was who gets to make decisions at religious institutions.
Golia had ruled that the number of representatives sitting on the board be cut from as many as 19 to seven, with the possibility of the board growing to as many as 11 representatives. Mysorekar said the board complied and reduced its trustees accordingly.
The bylaws are void, and the societys members or board is directed to amend and adopt new by-laws in conformity with the requirements of the Religious Corporation Law and the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, he wrote.
But the parties disagree as to the meaning of those laws.
Robert Acker, a lawyer for the six petitioners, said members of the temple did not have enough say in the governing of the temple because members could not vote on who sits on the board of trustees.
The board is electing its members from within the board, Acker said. If the religious corporation has members, the members are supposed to be the ultimate body that has an election and elects members to the board of trustees.
Because of their lack of say, the petitioners questioned the expansion plan, Acker said.
But Joseph Baum, a lawyer for the temple, argued that the law did not mandate such a democratic structure.
In this kind of organization, the Religious Corporation Law allows you to have a board of trustees that is self-perpetuating, he said.
The petitioners submitted an appeal to the judge to reconsider his decision, Acker said.
At stake in the decision is the $4 million expansion plan of the temple.
The Hindu Temple Society of North America, located on Bowne Street just north of Holly Avenue, is a collection of buildings that dominate the block. The organization owns two separate temples, a community center, a parking lot and nearly a dozen homes within the area.
The organization hopes to knock down several of the houses it owns and build staff quarters, a senior center and a library.
After the petitioners filed their lawsuit in June 2001, the temple was temporarily prevented from continuing construction work. By the end of the summer, Golia lifted the suspension.
But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 further postponed plans because temple members, who donate funds, were worried about their financial future.
People were all in such shock, said Mysorekar. People were not sure of their jobs.
The temple, which in October had its ritual chariot burned in what Fire Department officials called an arson, tried to have artisans from India design part of the new buildings. But restrictions on immigrants prevented the artisans from coming to the United States immediately following Sept. 11.
Plans are proceeding, however, Mysorekar said.
The petitioners said the temple had a history of problems with construction projects, Golia wrote in his decision.
The petitioners said that in 1992-1993, the board of trustees entered an agreement for a $3.5 million construction expansion but actually spent $8.5 million to $10 million on the project. The board of trustees responded that the actual amount spent was well within the original proposed budget, Golia wrote.
The petitioners want the expansion plans halted not because they objected to the construction but because they did not have any input in the plans, Acker said.
[The temple] has divested the members entirely of any way to affect decisions, said Acker.
But Mysorekar defended the operation of the temple.
This institution has grown and prospered, Mysorekar said. What we have done has worked.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community News Group
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