News and Tribune

January 28, 2013

New Albany bicentennial board to use private bookkeeper

Records and expenditures questioned for 2012 event

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany Bicentennial Commission will likely begin using a private accounting firm to handle its financial record keeping, as there have been claims that some of the revenue from events related to the city’s 200th anniversary weren’t properly documented. 

The event in question doesn’t involve any of the public funding provided by the New Albany City Council last year, nor does there appear to be any money missing, bicentennial officials said Friday. 

Still, the firm Rodefer Moss and Co. could be approved by the commission as early as today to begin keeping track of financial records. Councilman and commission Co-Chair Bob Caesar said the company is experienced in dealing with nonprofit entities. 

“All of the bookkeeping will be turned over to Rodefer Moss because there’s public funds involved now,” Caesar said. 

To date, financial records have been maintained by the commission’s treasurer, Vic Megenity. If an official bicentennial event is held, the organizers are to keep receipts for expenditures and present them to the treasurer along with the proceeds in order to comply with nonprofit regulations. 

However during a meeting last week, allegations arose over the records and financial collections from the Stories Behind the Stones event held in September at Fairview Cemetery. 

According to officials, 300 tickets were sold for the event for $10 each, which meant $3,000 should have been collected. An envelope with $1,100 in checks, $8.34 in cash and a note citing $1,700 in credit card payments were accepted was turned in to the commission and Megenity. 

The event was organized by Barbara Zoller, vice-chair of the commission. The $1,700 in credit card transactions hasn’t been turned into the commission. However, Zoller said Friday the money has been used for reserving venues and other events associated with the bicentennial celebration. 

Zoller was appointed to the board in 2009 by Mayor Jeff Gahan when he was serving as city council president. She served a term as chair of the body, and started the Living History Committee to coincide with the commission. 

The committee focused on events with re-enactors  who would help tell New Albany’s history while dressed in clothing from different eras. The group organized a style show and the first Stories Behind the Stones event in September 2011. 

Zoller said both events were successful, and thus they were slated and held again in 2012 and are also planned for 2013.    

“The Living History Committee made their money and paid their bills with that money,” Zoller said in reference to expenses for the style show and Stories Behind the Stones. “So we’ve not used any city funds, or funds that were sitting in the bicentennial checkbook.” 

But there have been venues reserved and other expenses paid by personal checks, including ones written by Zoller’s sister, Patty Hughes. Zoller said that in some cases people had to pay to rent venues out of their own pocket, and that the Living History Committee reimbursed them once proceeds were collected. 

“All of our financial documents have been turned in,” Zoller said. “We have a receipt for everything that’s been spent.”

However, Megenity said he’s yet to see all the receipts.

“We have proof that $1,700 from Stories Behind the Stones in 2012 has not been accounted for,” Megenity said. “We asked [Zoller] for receipts and the accounting of that money, she flat out said ‘no, I’m not going to do it.’”

Megenity said he’s met with Caesar, Gahan and commission Co-Chair Shelle England over the issue, but the situation hasn’t been rectified.

He said he presented Gahan with nine violations of a nonprofit agency related to the Stories Behind the Stones event from last year.

During a public commission meeting last week, it was mentioned that only the treasurer is allowed to pay for expenses in a nonprofit. Additionally, claims have to be approved by the commission before they can be paid for out of bicentennial funds. 

 

COMMISSION VERSUS COMMITTEE

Officials blamed some of the bookkeeping issues on lack of clarity as to whether an event organized by the Living History Committee was actually governed by the commission. 

Zoller said the commission didn’t approve a process for turning in claims and receipts until November, and that the standard has been adhered to ever since. 

England said the commission consists of volunteers who want to see New Albany’s 200th anniversary properly celebrated this year. She said there were questions in commission members’ minds over whether these events were associated with the Living History Committee or the bicentennial. 

“I think that’s basically where the confusion is,” she said. 

The commission was launched by her husband, former Mayor Doug England, and she said the intent of the body has always been to be inclusive when it comes to the bicentennial. 

“Every organization that has had an event with the bicentennial stamp, not all of those people by any means have given us money,” she said. 

 

PUBLIC FUNDING

The city council appropriated $50,000 for bicentennial events to be managed by the commission in October. The amount was initially set at $85,000 before being trimmed down prior to the final vote. 

The event funding is in addition to the money being spent on the New Albany Bicentennial Park. 

Caesar said that if approved, Rodefer Moss would be asked to perform an audit — likely this year — on the commission’s accounting to ensure correct procedures are being followed. 

Last year, multiple individuals from the commission spent their own money to reserve venues and pay for costs associated with bicentennial events, officials said. Accounting for public funds is being separated from private expenditures to help remedy any future issues, Caesar said. 

“Every person on the commission and every person on the committee has worked hard, and has really committed a tremendous amount of time,” Caesar said. “They’ve also spent a lot of money out of their own pockets just for things they wanted to get done.” 

In November, two administration members — Economic Development Director David Duggins and City Attorney Stan Robison — attended the meeting where the bookkeeping process was approved. 

Officials said Duggins suggested Zoller have her own account for the Living History Committee. 

Gahan stood by his past appointment to the commission Friday. 

“I would just like to express my appreciation to the entire bicentennial committee. I’m not concerned about any wrongdoing of any of the members,” he said. “Barbara Zoller and many others have chosen to fund these activities with their own money and I can’t thank them enough for their dedication.” 

Zoller said she welcomes the idea of a private company handling the bookkeeping, and added that such a method should have been implemented from the onset of the commission. 

“I’ve always thought that’s what we should do because now we’re dealing with such large amounts of money, and there’s so many [nonprofit] rules that have to be followed,” Zoller said. 

All those interviewed for the story said there main priority was to see that the city’s 2013 celebration is remembered for the right reasons. 

“Nobody took anything or intended to take anything,” Caesar said.