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Council suspends funding for senior center

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Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 3:53 pm

The New Brockton council last Monday in a split vote agreed to suspend all funding to the town's Senior Citizens' Center.

The action came after councilmembers and town officials learned of the creation of a New Brockton Senior Citizens' Foundation.

The foundation, which includes a board of directors, has a separate tax identification number and banking accounts.

When asked about the foundation, Mayor Lenwood Herron said he was aware the senior citizens had established the private group and felt that it in no way violated Alabama laws.

Councilwoman Kathy Holley said she sought guidance from the Alabama League of Municipalities about the foundation and was informed a municipality cannot employ individuals for the organization or use any town equipment for the foundation.

"Also at this time we have to make some tough decisions. You have to have streets. You have to have garbage pick up. We have to pay our taxes. Once that is done SARCOA (Southern Alabama Regional Council on Aging) will come back into the agreement that we have with them to support the senior citizens," she said.

Though Holley said she had analyzed the funding throughout the past several months, Herron said, "I think you need to put numbers to that instead of just saying that is the case."

More than 350 individuals, he said, have signed a petition offering their support for keeping the center open.

"Well maybe they can afford to pay the rent, the utilities and the salaries," Holley countered.

New Brockton town clerk/treasurer Lisa Pannell said the foundation was established Aug. 31 without her knowledge.

But, she said, Herron had full knowledge of the foundation's request for a separate tax number and securities bond.

"You set this up. I know that you did. You got the bonding on all of those people. You got the bank account on all of these people. Is it going to be considered a community event? If it is, they cannot have any control over any money," Pannell said. "If this is considered a private foundation, the town may not during any normal working hours use city employees and city equipment for private work. Since Aug. 31, when you never told me anything about it, I have been paying Denise and I have been paying Willie out of the General Fund when it should have been coming out of the foundation."

Herron said a second time that the foundation did not violate any laws.

In a conversation between Herron, Pannell and Alabama League of Municipalities attorney Tracy Roberts, Herron said he was told to have an independent fundraising arm of the center.

But Pannell said the information offered by Herron was not the information she and the mayor were given during their conversation with Roberts.

"No sir, I've got it right here in writing from Tracy Roberts," she said.

Pannell said in following Roberts' guidance she believes the foundation now owes the town money.

Though Herron disagreed, she said the foundation must repay New Brockton for all salaries and utilities the town paid for the senior citizens' center since the foundation was created.

Pannell also charged Herron with playing a more prominent role in the foundation's creation than he previously had alluded.

"It wasn't the directors who went down and set up the accounts. You went to the bank and you went to the bonding agent," she said.

Though Herron responded that Pannell would not "find his signature on anything," she produced a copy of a letter Herron wrote to a bonding agent seeking a surety bond for each member of the foundation's board of directors. The letter ended with Herron's signature.

"I have copies of the bonding. I've talked to the bank and the accounts have been set up. I mean, I'm the treasurer. You should let me know about this stuff. These also have your signature on them. Do you want to tell me something else that your signature is not on?" she said.

Herron said he believed the town should seek a written legal opinion about the legality of the foundation.

Though Pannell said Roberts' letter was a legal opinion, Herron said it contained a disclaimer that made it an "advisory opinion."

"How about the district attorney? You think he might be eligible to tell me the same thing?" Pannell said. "I mean I don't get the courtesy to be able to do the finances when you are going behind my back and setting up foundations."

"Let's not talk about who is going behind whose back," Herron retorted.

Newly appointed councilman Jimmy Peacock made a motion that all payments for the center be suspended until "we can get a signed, sealed and delivered, which I think we already have... If they want to be a foundation, they can be a foundation and they can support themselves. But the town, as strapped as we are, we've got a tough business here," he said.

A second legal opinion is expected before the council reconvenes.

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