LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “THE RIGHT TO KNOW WILL ECHO THROUGH THE HALLS OF JUSTICE”

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“THE RIGHT TO KNOW WILL ECHO THROUGH THE HALLS OF JUSTICE”

by: Dan Barton, Publisher of The New-Harmony Gazette. March 24, 2018

What right does a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation have to keep information about the possible misuse of funds by their former director Stephanie Tenbarge from a formal Evansville Police Department investigation?

One of the primary responsibilities of a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation’s Board of Trustees is to ensure that the organization complies with all federal, state, and local laws.

Along with those responsibilities the trustees also act in a fiduciary capacity and maintain oversight of the nonprofit’s finances. They are accountable to their donors and to the general public. They are responsible for maintaining compliance with all laws. Most especially because they receive taxpayer dollars, as they have from Evansville taxpayers, and are allowed to exempt themselves and their properties from paying taxes, while others are required to pay in full, they should go the extra mile in compliance with the law.

I admit that I’m a little off my beaten path, about 30 miles off, but sometimes issues that affect one community in Southwest Indiana also affect the rest of us. That would seem to be the case regarding ECHO of Evansville. Access to information, the financial records of ECHO Housing requested by the Evansville Police Department stemming from an allegation by an ECHO Board member. It concerns the possible misuse of reportedly $5,000 in ECHO funds by former Director Stephanie Tenbarge. The police request seems to be a reason.

The Evansville Courier & Press broke this story several days ago and the City-County Observer quickly followed suit. Up until this writing ECHO’s Board of Trustees have refused to cooperate with the Evansville Police Department. Now the Evansville Town Council has been forced to take action by threatening to withhold all funding to ECHO until they allow for a full investigation, and for full disclosure of their financial records.

I believe ECHO should open it’s booked to the police and the public. By soliciting and accepting public tax money, from $80,000 to $130,000 every year from Evansville alone, they became an extension of the government entity that they took the money from. They should follow the same rules that we expect our government to follow and come clean. Allow for full transparency. What is there to hide?

Former President John F. Kennedy in a speech made on April 27, 1961, clearly delineated how we Americans view secrecy connected to the government in the United States. In this case, it should also apply to nonprofit organizations who take public money. Kennedy said:

“The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.”

An observation that would seem apply equally as well to ECHO’s apparent attempt at delaying justice by obstructing a full and public investigation of its books.

FOOTNOTE: The City-County Observer posted this article without opinion, bias or editing. The New-Harmony Gazette is a media partner of the City-County Observer.

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, they have a right to refuse to open their books if the want to do so. They have a legal right to that action.
    But the people and organizations (both public and private) have a right to refuse to provide funding if they feel the recipient of their funding (ECHO) is not being transparent. If ECHO doesn’t want to provide that transparancy then I suspect they’ll suffer the effect of loss of funding; and so will their clients.
    I’m not promoting a prosecution of Tenbarge for a criminal act; that decision should be made by the Board of Directors of ECHO. If there is some compelling reason to not pursue criminal charges against Tenbarge and this Board has decided, based upon those reasons or reason, so be it. But the Board of Directors of ECHO should give reassurance to the community and donors by opening it’s books for a financial audit available to the public demonstrating restitution has been made and policies have been implemented to prevent reoccurance of same said situation.

  2. It would seem to me that part of the fault, regarding whether or not a nonprofit should be compelled to open it’s books to the donor lies with the donors themselves. If I were to donate several hundreds of thousands of dollars to OldMustangMan and his friends I would want some assurances by virtue of an airtight contract that would give me the authority to demand my right to audit. Why the City of Evansville has allowed such a loophole is beyond my wildest imagination. It is the public’s money that’s at risk under the loose arrangement that they have with all of these nonprofits. Trust but verify!

  3. Just one last point regarding whether a nonprofit must open it’s books to the public. OldMustangMan’s point is well taken, in that, if the Controller’s Office, Russell Lloyd Jr., does not have an agreement with the nonprofit then it is most difficult to force them to be open. City oversight is essential in these disputes. An example for y’all: In NYC the Municipal Unions, of which there are around 109 of them, the City has an agreement with the Municipal Unions, 501c3 Benefit Funds, which provide supplemental benefits to Unionized City Workers, that requires them to 1) Keep accurate records with generally accepted accounting principles. 2) The funds are audited annually by a certified public accountant selected by their trustees. 3)The CPA audit report must be submitted by the fund to the Comptroller’s Office 4) ## Funds are also subject to further audit by the Comptroller’s Office.## 5) Nine months after the close of its fiscal year, each fund’s trustees must file a report with the Comptroller’s Office. 6) Finally, an annual membership report must be mailed to all fund members that summarizes the financial condition of the fund.

    Does anybody out there know if such an agreement exists between the Evansville Controller’s Office and the more than twenty nonprofit organizations that receive funds from the City of Evansville?

  4. To late. Police are investigating and she, perhaps others, are in the cross hairs. Another branch of government that is worthless because of greed!!!! I hope EPD, ISP, FBI and HUD open investigations. While at it, let them look at the city’s books. Oh what tangled webs we weave!!!!

  5. The whole nonprofit giveaways needs to be revised, and yes, if it falls within the venue of EDP, they need to look at it very carefully. I still find it hard to believe that the Controller’s office does not have an agreement with the nonprofits to protect the taxpayers money from possible misuse. This could get interesting.

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