Thursday, March 29, 2012
Show me the money. That’s what some Signal Mountain residents are asking in regards to the former Friends of MACC, a private organization which had until recently tasked itself with raising funds for the historic community center.
“In the last year or two we’ve had questions from citizens about where the money’s gone, and when we asked [the Friends of MACC] the records were very spotty or nonexistent,” said Vice Mayor Susan Robertson. “When citizens ask you and you can’t tell them, that’s not good.”
Local resident Michelle Michaud is one of the town residents with a lot of questions. As a mother with children who have participated in several MACC functions and programs, she said she is worried about the center’s continued vitality and about the lack of transparency surrounding the paper trail — both dollar bills and related documents.
Financial documents she obtained from Paul Hendricks, president of SMArt Foundation, the new incarnation of Friends of MACC, show discrepancies between reported and documented numbers, especially as related to last year’s Hodgepodge.
“They are not comprehensive, just kind of monthly things,” Hendricks said in regards to the financial documents he provided to her. “You can’t judge [from it] in any kind of global perspective.”
What he turned over to Michaud shows 2011 Hodgepodge revenues at $4,536.73 and expenses at $82.50.
Hendricks noted that typical expenses related to the annual craft fair which serves as the biggest fundraiser for MACC include at minimum a $600-$800 rental fee to use town property as well as insurance coverage, which is “a big chunk of money.” Other expenses like security, marketing, rentals for activities and payouts to musicians add up quickly from there, he said. According to a spreadsheet he provided the Chattanooga Times Free Press, marketing costs alone amounted to $4,421.
That spreadsheet reports the event raising close to $19,000, of which $8,427 had to be used to cover expenses.
Hendricks admits there has not been formal accounting related to the organization.
“Our accounting is not real sophisticated being a private organization,” he said. “All our information is scattered on different people’s computers, boxes and other things.
“Knowing all the character of the people who have been involved in the past, I do not suspect anything beyond maybe some sloppiness here and there. We’ve got a board of fine, upstanding citizens here and we’ve tried to do everything above board, legally and everything else, accepting that a lot of us just joined a board that’s been run by volunteers.”
The all-volunteer board experienced changes two years ago with a new foundation approach that included the hiring of a paid fundraising consultant, Patrick Emanuel, who received $17,600 in compensation from October 2010 through August 2011, according to the financial documents Hendricks gave Michaud.
At the time former MACC Director Karen Shropshire passed away two years ago, which is about the time the first board turnover occurred, approximately $28,000 was in the foundation’s account, according to Robertson. Financial documents obtained from former Friends of MACC board member Colleen Laliberte include certificates of deposit totaling approximately $20,000.
The foundation has since zeroed out its accounts and donated $35,000 to the town earmarked for a new sprinkler system at MACC, Hendricks said. He also pointed to other contributions made to the MACC, such as the Norwegian spruce purchased last year for the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting and $5,000 to North Shore Fellowship to help with building renovations the group performed free of charge.
“We donated close to $50,000 in the last 15 months,” he said. “Every bit of net we get goes to the town.”
In response to the lack of legal documents, town officials are wading through a process that will require a memorandum of agreement with all organizations raising money in the name of the town or town facilities or using town facilities.
“[Town Attorney] Phil [Noblett] suggested having contracts — if you’re going to fundraise for the town of Signal Mountain you’re required to do these things and show this is what comes in and this is where it goes,” said Robertson. “We never did that before, it has just been a gentlemen’s agreement among friends.”
There is still some discussion about where the town’s jurisdiction in private organizations and their operations starts and stops.
“What I’m looking for is what is normal, what is legal, what is proper,” said Councilman Dick Gee. “I do think we have a responsibility to determine proper accountability for funds raised for the town. If a citizen asks ‘What happened to the money?’ in my opinion, we have to be able to respond to that.”