Wednesday April 24, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

ARLINGTON -- During a heated and often chaotic meeting on Monday the Arlington Recreational and Park Committee created a sub-committee to draft a new mission statement, and appointed liaisons to the Select Board.

The meeting was attended by approximately a dozen members of the public, many of whom had questions about how the committee’s endowment will be managed.

Early last year the committee informed the board that it wished to dissolve and place control of the Arlington Recreation Park with the board. The transfer did not go smoothly. The board now controls the day-to-day operations of the park while the committee changed leadership and retained control over the park’s endowment fund.

"What we, as a board can see, is that our role at the park has diminished," said Committee President Jack Lee. "We do have control of the endowment, meaning that we’re kind of the keepers of the key. With that responsibility we have to pass it out and prudently see which way we’re going to go with it. We have a lot of ideas. A lot of people have discussed things they would like to see happen with it. Myself, personally, the money is for the park."

A sub-committee was appointed to draft a new mission statement to better reflect the park committee’s new status but the consensus was that money still benefit the park.

Monday’s gathering at the Arlington Community House was the committee’s first meeting after its annual meeting. The next will be held on May 20 where the committee will talk to representatives from People’s United Bank about managing the endowment. Lee said the endowment totals roughly $357,000 and 62 percent has been locked into low-interest bonds since 2008.

"They have to help us with it. We have no money coming in from any other source," said Lee.

"When is the last time there was an audit done? Usually businesses and non-profits when they are in a transitional point have some sort of an audit during transitional times which it sounds like you’re at," said K. John Smith, a Select Board member present at the meeting.

Lee said the committee’s treasurer would have a record of any audits. This was followed by an exchange between multiple people over the possibility of certain tax forms serving as audits which some were skeptical of.

"This is not a public thing and actually having you here as the public and not being on the board is again, something we’re yielding to you for," said committee member Wendy Bucchieri at the end of the exchange. "We don’t have to do this anymore. We don’t receive public money any longer and we don’t need to do this. So please be respectful, we are trying to do our best in going forward."

"Where was the disrespect in the interchange that just occurred?" asked Joseph O’Dea, an audience member.

Lee said the committee is not concerned about an audit as the only items money has been spent on in the past year has been helping the Lion’s Club, the park, and attorney fees it incurred from its initial disagreements with the board. He said an audit is something the committee can discuss with its treasurer at a future meeting.

The discussion became heated near the end when the committee voted to hold its next meeting on May 26 and have it be only for the 25 committee members and bank representatives.

O’Dea and others took execption to this and there was a debate on whether or not past committee members were still members until they officially resigned.

"Become a private organization and close the doors, see what happens," said O’Dea, who is an attorney.

"That’s a nice threat, Joe," responded Lee.

"Yeah, it is. It’s not a threat, it’s a promise," said O’Dea.

Prior to this the committee appointed two members to act as liaisons to the Select Board. Lee and other members were resistant to the idea of having liaisons at this point given the committee is not yet clear on how it will manage its funds. Committee member Jim Henderson said there was no downside to having the liaisons in place and that if the committee is going to spend money on the park it’s best that it know something of how it’s being managed. 

Bucchieri said the committee should consider not spending any funds this year until it can develop a spending structure. Committee member Dick Bailey said they should study a United States Department of Agriculture facilities grant to improve the park’s tennis courts, which has been an ongoing project. He said this could be done regardless of how the committee is spending funds.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr