Garden revokes his membership again, throws away the key | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Garden revokes his membership again, throws away the key

Photo by Lincoln Anderson Jeff Wright in Dias Y Flores garden after the May 5 arbitration meeting, as two other gardeners who don’t approve of his behavior, behind him, looked on warily.
Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Jeff Wright in Dias Y Flores garden after the May 5 arbitration meeting, as two other gardeners who don’t approve of his behavior, behind him, looked on warily.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Accusing him of “creating a hostile environment” at Dias y Flores, the E. 13th St. garden’s board members last week voted unanimously to revoke the membership of embattled member Jeff Wright.

Another gardener, Debra Jenks, an ally of Wright’s, also had her membership revoked.

The board sent them letters Saturday night informing them their memberships were ended.

The garden’s board had also revoked Wright’s membership a little more than a month ago, but the action was rescinded on May 5 by Roland Chouloute, GreenThumb’s deputy director, after Chouloute led a tense arbitration meeting at the garden.

However, Claude T. Kilgore, a board member, said the latest revocation was based on “a number of destructive activities that occurred even since our arbitration.”

The lock on the garden’s gate has now been changed, and members have been coming by to pick up their new keys.

“The overwhelming impression is a sense of relief and peace,” Kilgore said. “The garden looks great! The shed is nearly complete. We’re happy and excited to move on with all of the garden’s summer programs.”

The plants in Wright’s plot were all reportedly removed and potted. He has been given time to come pick them up, and if he doesn’t, they will be planted in garden common areas.

Among Wright’s latest violations, according to the board, were failing to post a notice about his Memorial Day party on the garden’s shed a week in advance, plus “vandalizing” the shed by conspiring with Jenks to paint a new “coat of arms” on it, without the board’s O.K.

In addition, Julie Friesner, another Dias y Flores board member, said that a video by The Villager of Wright’s Memorial Day party posted online showed there had been alcohol — technically a violation of GreenThumb rules.

On Memorial Day, the garden’s board had decided to crack down with a strict “no tolerance” policy on booze. The Villager video showed Wright playing guitar and singing an original impromptu song, “Ten Little Indians” (“How Many Indians?”) The camera panned across the crowd a couple of times, showing others clapping along and garden member Annie Wilson walking by with her African rock dove, Lovi Dovi.

But, toward its end, as Wright was winding up the song, singing, “I’d follow Crazy Horse any day…” the video inadvertently captured one of the revelers removing a bottle of white wine from a blue plastic bag on the picnic table. He is seen discretely hiding the bottle from sight under the table, then furtively refilling his coffee cup, before placing the plastic lid back on the cup. Partiers that imbibed — there were about two dozen poets and visual artists in all at the fairly tame event — used lidded paper coffee cups, trying to avoid detection.

(The Villager had not even noticed the man’s actions until Friesner mentioned it to the newspaper this week. Clearly, the Dias y Flores board watched the video intently for any violations.)

Asked what he’ll do now, Wright told The Villager, “As John Paul Jones said, ‘We have not yet begun to fight.’ ”

He charged that he is the one who has been harassed by the garden’s board for whistleblowing.

Wright e-mailed GreenThumb’s Chouloute stating, among other things, that his plants had been “illegally destroyed.”

“They have again revoked my membership and the membership of another garden member based on outright lies and misinterpretations of our bylaws and rules,” Wright wrote Chouloute. “We expect our memberships to be restored as I have broken no rules, just as I had not last time.

“This time the board members have destroyed my plot and dug up all my plants without warning. I am sending you a bill for $300 to take care of this and I fully expect my plants to be replanted.”

Wright also charges that the shed was painted gray previously without proper approval. If his new “coat of arms” keys are painted over, he warned, there will be consequences.

“I want you to understand,” he wrote Chouloute, “that painting over artwork is a crime under the Visual Artists Rights Act and artists can be recompensed according to their reputation.”

Wright also objected that he and Jenks are being unfairly accused of hosting the Memorial Day party — even though he did send out the invites for it.

If anything good can come from all this garden mudslinging, it may well be its artistic legacy. Wright is a poet and the editor of Live Mag!

He told The Villager, “I have written a play based on the situation called ‘Clubhouse on East 13th.’ The play has been accepted for the Boog Festival in August.”

Also, when Wright’s Dias y Flores key was first taken away a month ago, his friends all presented him with keys at a “key ceremony,” which apparently was filmed.

“The ‘Key Ceremony’ will have its film debut this fall,” Wright said. “The 41 keys from the ceremony will be made into a mobile by Judy Rifka, Ford Crull and myself and should be in fall show at the Theater for the New City.”

It’s not clear at this point if GreenThumb will attempt to hold another arbitration after this latest meltdown.

Chouloute last month told Wright he would find another garden for him in which he could throw his monthly parties, which have become an issue over the past few years.

“It’s not the parties per se,” Friesner told The Villager. “It’s extreme disruptive behavior. He formed an unelected steering committee to oversee the elected board. It’s really just that he was trying to take over — that’s what this was all about.”

But the parties were also an issue.

Friesner, who lives next door to the garden, recalled, “The Martin Luther King Day party, I came home around 7 p.m. and heard someone playing guitar and singing at the top of his lungs, ‘I’m a drunken pirate!’ ”

Somehow, that didn’t exactly seem to be in the spirit of Dr. King, she said.