Discord at OCCORD? Progressive Nonprofit Suffers Staff Exodus

Syed sounds off on Anaheim Blog’s Matt Cunningham (Yeah!) before resigning. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

Since 2005, Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development has earned a reputation for advancing progressive causes. From district elections to community land trusts to living wage campaigns, OCCORD’s been there for it all. More recently, the nonprofit’s community activists have been entrenched in the fight for a fair Angel Stadium deal in Anaheim and against any big development on Willowick Golf Course in SanTana and Garden Grove.

Between it all, they’ve hosted citizenship fairs that help naturalize future voters.

But for reasons still unknown, OCCORD recently suffered a staff exodus that will inevitably slow their role for the time being. A Friday the 13th open letter from Ada Briceño, chair of the nonprofit’s board, acknowledged that the nonprofit is in transition following the resignation of several employees in recent weeks, including former executive director Shakeel Syed.

“The board is now engaged in a process of understanding and addressing the reasons for this turnover,” writes Briceño, who’s also co-president of Unite Here Local 11 and chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. “We are deeply committed to ensuring a supportive environment for the people who keep the crucial work of OCCORD moving ahead.”

Briceño also announced the appointment of Margarita Valenzuela as interim executive director. Valenzuela is touted as someone with many years of organizing experience including with Unite Here Local 11, which represents more than 30,000 hotel, restaurant, airport, sports arena and convention center workers in Southern California and Arizona.

“During this interim period, OCCORD will be working with the well-known national organization RoadMap Consulting to engage the board, staff, and stakeholders in a guided transition process,” Briceño adds. “This will include a broad and inclusive search for our next executive director.”

Syed had submitted an op-ed to the Weekly as executive director of OCCORD as recently as August 13. Now his name no longer appears on the staff page of the nonprofit’s website. Seven staff members, not including Valenzuela, remain listed.

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