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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Transparency concerns arise over fundraising for Korean Friendship Bell restoration

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The Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee (KFBPC), is currently embroiled in internal conflicts, raising concerns over the transparency of their planned fundraising event for the bell’s restoration.

On July 4, an event to ring the Korean Friendship Bell, typically organized by the KFBPC, was solely hosted by the LA City Department of Recreation and Parks and a city council member’s office due to internal issues within the committee.

The current president of the committee, Sangjun Park, and chairman Young Kim, are now operating under the new name the “Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Foundation (KFBPF).”

In a press release issued on June 26, the foundation announced plans to launch a fundraising event for the second phase of the restoration project. They also mentioned the completion of the restoration and a grand 50th-anniversary celebration in 2026.


Serious deterioration of the Korean Friendship Bell [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

The announcement of the fundraising event has sparked transparency concerns among the founding members and board directors of the committee. Critics point out that amid the questionable process of renaming and revising the bylaws, any involvement of financial matters could escalate issues.

[Serious deterioration of Korean Friendship Bell amid management conflicts]

Notably, in January 2015, the committee faced accusations of misusing $30,000 raised during a golf tournament intended for the bell pavilion’s restoration. This led to protests by some Korean community members in front of the JJ Grand Hotel.

Some current board directors, who were founding committee members, expressed frustration over being excluded from events and meetings without formal resignation. One long-standing member said, “I haven’t received any updates or invitations related to committee activities since around 2019. Even the group chat has gone silent. I never expressed a desire to resign but was naturally sidelined.”

Additionally, last October, the foundation informed Secretary-General Gahyun Lee, who had represented the committee in dealings with the LA City Department of Recreation and Parks for about 18 years, of her expulsion due to alleged interference in operations.

Lee criticized the revised bylaws, stating, “Any amendments to the bylaws should be made through a general meeting and a vote, but they created a subcommittee to change them at will. Moreover, they unilaterally passed the revised bylaws around May or June last year, retroactively applying them from January. How can they apply new rules to a period before their implementation?”

Expressing concerns about the lack of transparency in operations, Lee added, “I worry that potential donors could become victims if funds are mismanaged.”

Meanwhile, the Bell of Friendship is due for the fourth phase out of five in a long-term restoration plan initiated in 2008, which includes replacing the tiled roof and repainting. The internal conflicts within the committee are feared to negatively impact the restoration efforts and fundraising.

Jeff Lee, Executive Director of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles, “Fundraising is challenging even with united efforts. Given the current internal situation, the outlook is concerning, especially as entities in Korea might be reluctant to support an organization with a negative reputation locally.”

BY SUAH JANG, YOUNGNAM KIM [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]