The Cape and Isles Attorney’s Office announced this week that it would not sue the Vineyard Trust for altering contractors’ work quotes, as the nonprofit considers its future after a turbulent summer that has having regard to the resignation of its executive director.
“After a full review of all investigative documents submitted to date, we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges,” DA spokeswoman Tara Miltimore wrote, in an e-mail to the Gazette. “However, if new evidence comes to light, the matter will be revisited.”
The DA’s announcement comes after the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Police Department referred an investigation to state police regarding amended public funding applications submitted by the Trust for the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs earlier this summer.
But the island’s nonprofit, which owns and maintains 20 historic buildings on Martha’s Vineyard, including the recently reopened Alley’s general store in West Tisbury, still faces problems with its charitable records as it seeks to restore public confidence.
This week, the state attorney general’s office revealed that it sent the Vineyard Trust a letter of non-compliance after receiving anonymous information about the organization earlier this year.
“We received an anonymous complaint about this organization in March and sent them a letter of non-compliance afterwards,” a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office wrote in an email to the Gazette. “We have worked with them to bring them into compliance (we are currently awaiting their 2019 audit and their 2020 files).”
New Board Chairman John Klein and Interim Executive Director Sally Rorer. – Ray ewing
The Gazette filed for public registration with the attorney general’s office for the letter of non-compliance, and has not received a response.
Vineyard Trust board chairman John Klein, who took office after Patrick Ahearn’s tenure ended in July, said the issue was with the organization’s PC 2020 form, a financial document similar to a Federal Form 990 which must be filed annually by all nonprofits or charities in the state. The lengthy form includes financial disclosure requirements, annual donations, employee compensation, and a section on conflicts of interest requiring nonprofits to disclose various related party transactions, including directors and members of the board of directors.
A specific section of the document requires nonprofits to disclose rental agreements with trustees. The Trust leased two properties – Alley’s General Store and Osborne Wharf – to members of the Board of Directors.
Mr Klein downplayed the importance of the issue on Thursday and blamed the issue on the Trust’s former accounting firm.
“It’s not a problem from a content point of view. It’s more of an office issue, ”Klein said. “I was not satisfied with our accounting, with our CPA firm that dealt with taxes, and they did not respond to me when they took over. So I changed companies.
He declined to name the firm, but said it was based off the island and was replaced by a new accounting firm in August this year.
“The state requested the PC form from our accountant,” Klein added.
“We had it for 2019. The audit was complete and we combined the audits for 2019 and 2020 earlier this year… They will be filing their 2019 and 2020 tax returns in the coming weeks.”
The Attorney General’s Public and Nonprofit Charities Division is responsible for overseeing the assets of thousands of public charities statewide and also investigating and enforcing alleged breaches of fiduciary duty. Mr Klein said the state had requested all of the Trust’s financial documents in one submission, explaining why the organization was still non-compliant.
Questions about the trust were raised following the town of Edgartown meeting in June, when town officials tabled an article about the $ 300,000 community preservation committee mandate to paint and renovate the Whaling church. It later emerged that the executive director of Trust, Funi Burdick, had changed the quotation for the work without the knowledge of the contractor. A similar issue was discovered regarding an application for public funding for the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs. Although the Oak Bluffs tenure article was approved at the town meeting, city staff quickly froze funds.
Ms Burdick resigned following the discovery. The search for a new CEO is still ongoing.
In an interview with The Gazette, Klein said he was happy, but not surprised that the prosecutor’s office refused to prosecute and that the organization had hired a Boston attorney to conduct its own internal investigation. on questions.
“I was very, very happy that [the DA’s office] finally came out with the report, which didn’t surprise us. This is what we expected, ”Klein said. “We put all the facts on the table that we had. And we want to move forward.
Mr Klein said the Trust’s board of directors, which has more than 40 members, has been devastated by the contractors’ quote problem and two staff, including Ms Burdick, have left the organization. Mr. Klein declined to comment further
on the departure of the second staff member, citing privacy on staff matters.
“There were a few employees who did something they never should have done. And they are no longer with us, ”Klein said.
Three board members also voluntarily resigned from the board, mainly due to their age or a lack of commitment, Klein said. But he said there had been increased engagement from the organization’s governance, finance, events and building committees in recent months, and said the board had also formed a “community outreach committee” in hopes of fostering better relationships between residents of Vineyard, members of the board of directors. and trust properties.
After Edgartown froze funding for the Whaling Church project, Mr Klein said a private citizen in Edgartown launched an email campaign and created a separate organization called ‘Friends of the Whaling Church’ to to raise funds to finish painting and renovating. Mr. Klein confirmed that the citizen was Parthenia Kiersted and that the organization had raised nearly $ 300,000. He said the community engagement committee came out of the “Friends” organization and a similar effort was underway in Oak Bluffs.
The Trust currently has a banner on its website soliciting donations for the Flying Horses platform renovation and painting project, with over $ 25,000 raised. The city has yet to release CPC funding for the project, and work remains on hold.
Mr Klein said work was due to start on the whaling church in October, with hopes to be completed by the first week of December.
“The Trust, at the moment, is in very good internal shape,” Klein said. “Financially, we are in good shape. From a governance perspective, we are in good shape. From an economic and financial point of view, we have a hill to climb to reach the end of the year. But I’m confident with the team in place we can do it.
Mr. Klein also addressed conflict of interest issues relating to the Trust and the members of its board of directors. After leasing Alley’s General Store to a member of the board of directors and owner of Le Roux housewares store in Vineyard Haven Michael Levandowski last spring, Mr. Klein said the Trust and Mr. Levandowski had achieved a agreement that he would step down from the board. Alley’s general store reopened to the public this month after a summer shutdown.
“Michael and we both concluded that once he became an operator … it was not appropriate for him to stay on the board,” Klein said. “It was a mutual decision.”
But Mr Klein argued there was no problem with the Trust leasing a property it owns at 45 Dock Street, known as Osborne Wharf, to board member Garrett. Conover, for use as a real estate office. He said Mr. Conover had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovating the building and that the lease was mutually beneficial for both parties.
He added that the trust lawyer had reviewed the arrangement and had not identified any issues.
“I don’t see a problem at all,” Klein said. “As long as [Mr. Conover] recuses himself from everything related to conditions, rent, et cetera.
Extensive research is still underway for a new Executive Director for the Trust. Mr Klein said the organization has received more than 60 applications, from applicants on and off the island, and interviews were conducted this week.
Reflecting on last summer, Klein said the unrest at the Trust was unrelated to its board of directors. But he apologized for what he called unforgivable mistakes at the staff level, and said his aim was to help the Trust refocus on its mission of vigorously maintaining the historic properties and regaining it. the confidence of the Vineyard community after the upheaval.
“This was not a governance issue at the board level,” Klein said. “But it is clear to us that the connection with the community is a lesson learned, and that [Ms. Burdick] and we haven’t been as open to our respective communities … as we could have been.