As one of the largest organizations serving the Hmong community, HAP (Hmong American Partnership) has gained the reputation as being a model organization.
With its newly built headquarters on the east side of St. Paul and nearly $4 million in yearly revenue (information found on HAP’s 1995 IRS form-990), HAP’s future success remains a matter of concern for the entire community.
Last March, however, the organization was thrust into controversy, forever tarnishing the polish that HAP once had in the community.
Turmoil erupted after HAP’s board of directors terminated William Yang, the executive director of HAP for the last 12 years. From public demonstrations to threatened law suits, the aftershock of the termination continues to reverberate throughout the restructuring process.
Aside from Yang, HAP lost two other top managers when Fue Heu, associate director, handed his resignation shortly after Yang was terminated and Laura LaBlanc was let go from her long-held position as director for HAP’s Youth and Family Services.
Despite the looming controversy, HAP’s board was able to field a very competitive list of candidates for the executive director position. After a four-month national search, the board selected Bao Vang to take over the helm.
This decision, as unfolding events would indicate, made some people very unhappy.
On the second day with a new executive director, some HAP employees anonymously distributed a steaming letter, pointing to wide-spread corruption and specifically naming Vang as being part of a conspiracy to overtake the organization.
Addressed to the state attorney general as well as to foundations that support HAP, the letter succeeded in sending shockwaves throughout the organization.
“I was truly disappointed and hurt because the letter was sent from within the organization,” Bao Vang revealed. “We have cameras here so I know who was involved.”
Rather than confronting any individual employees, however, Vang displayed her leadership skills by calling an emergency all-staff meeting the very next morning. For over two hours Vang meticulously addressed each accusatory paragraph from the letter.
Revealing that she had the culprits on surveillance cameras, Vang shifted attention towards working to build trust and respect. “I told everybody at the meeting that we should all be given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. That we need to focus on our work and on building HAP’s future together.”
A staff member who wished to remain anonymous commented that Vang had earned a new found respect after the meeting. “It surprised everybody how she brought calm to the situation because there was a sense of chaos after the letter had been distributed. I think Bao did a good job in asserting her leadership style. But we’ll just have to see because there are a lot of challenges ahead of us.”
After the meeting had adjourned, the unthinkable happened.
While workers were in their offices, shots were fired from Arcade Street. According to police reports, at least 5 shots from a pellet gun penetrated the first pane of a second floor window.
Did the shooter intend to hurt anybody in the building? Probably not, answered Vang, “Otherwise they may have used a real gun.”
Admitting to be a little rattled over the incident, Vang insists that she will stay the course in transitioning HAP towards the future.
“There’s just so much that needs to be done. The first thing I’ve got to do, however, is to meet with foundations because obviously they received the letter and must be wondering what the heck is going on here.”
And as far as the internal corruption that the letter had mentioned, Vang promises to get to the bottom of that mess as well. “I’m thankful the letter mentions it because if there was corruption, this new leadership will seek it out and correct it, that’s for sure.”