By MELINDA WILLIAMS
It’s intended as a time town council members can hash out budget issues amongst themselves and with town staff, but sparks flew at Pulaski Town Council’s budget session Tuesday when a town citizen interjected himself into the process.
Clark Payne, who lives on Henry Avenue and relocated to Pulaski from Richmond around 2006, seated himself at the conference table normally only occupied by members of council and town staff during budget discussions. He then proceeded to object to a comment made by the vice mayor and cited a list of reasons for his objections.
Unless specifically asked to address an issue or being granted permission to speak, public comment typically isn’t taken during work sessions. Public comment is reserved for council’s monthly legislative meetings and citizens are free to voice their opinions to council members through letters, emails or telephone calls.
At issue Tuesday was whether council should provide $1,000 in funding for Greater Pulaski Alliance in the 2013-14 fiscal year budget. The purpose of the meeting was merely to discuss the budget. No action will be taken until council finalizes a budget and holds a public hearing.
Town Manager John Hawley indicated GPA hasn’t request funding, but he placed $1,000 in the draft budget because there appears to be a growing interest among town merchants in reviving the organization.
He said the group is working on regaining its nonprofit status, but will not be able to complete the process in time to comply, this budget session, with all requirements of a new nonprofit agency checklist town council recently adopted.
However, Councilman Greg East said he would be “hard pressed” to “immediately push aside” the checklist requirements and authorize any funding for GPA.
Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman said he wouldn’t be inclined to provide the funds to GPA without handling requests from the group on “a case-by-case basis.”
At that point Payne interjected his opinion without requesting permission to speak.
“With all due respect Mr. Goodman, as a member of the public, I strenuously object to any funding whatsoever for GPA for the following reasons:,” said Payne.
First, he said the Internal Revenue Service website indicates “they have not filed a tax return, as required, since 2007.” He said the group is “in line for automatic revocation” of nonprofit status at “any moment” and that GPA hasn’t been “a registered corporation with the state of Virginia” since 2010.
Payne then entered into a lengthy recitation of the reasoning behind his statement.
“Since the town manager and a member of council sits on the board of directors, and since I received a letter after my comments at the council meeting several months ago assuring me that the town manager and the town attorney regularly reviewed the status of GPA and that they’re not required to file a tax return based on a document the town had in its possession,” he said.
“I subsequently informed the mayor at a meeting approximately one month later that, in fact, they were required according to the IRS regulations for nonprofit organizations,” he added. “They are required to file at least Form 990, Form 990EZ or an electronic postcard called Form 990N.”
He continued, “Finally, I guess. I don’t know how many numbers I’ve been through. The question I have is what potential liability has the lack of oversight by the current management team – what possible liability have they incurred for the town by not acting in a fiduciary capacity and continuing to recommend your council fund this organization, which did not exist.’=
“I have no idea what state and legal penalties might exist for operating as a nonprofit to the public when you’re clearly not licensed to operate in the state of Virginia; and finally, what liability does the town have for any action the GPA has taken including recording and receiving money for the benefit of the town and the farmer’s market?” he concluded.
At that point, Hawley said he could respond to one of Payne’s questions.
“We’re not going to…,” said Mayor Jeff Worrell before Hawley started to interject something. “Stop,” Worrell said.
“But, he’s made accusations …” said Hawley.
“No. Stop. We’re not going to …,” Worrell tried to say again.
“I haven’t made accusations,” Payne responded to Hawley.
“You made accusations that …,” Hawley was going to say before interrupted by Worrell.
“No. Both of you are out of order. Now stop,” added Worrell.
“I made a statement,” Payne said.
Goodman told Payne, “The best response we can make is our county attorney is not here.”
He added, “We can’t answer some of those questions, but what I’m asking is that we look at it (any GPA budget contribution) as a line-item issue. That means that they still have to file as much of that as possible. If they don’t have that on file then we wouldn’t be able to grant them any funding.”
Goodman said he was referring to reimbursement for specific costs such as “the Main Street program GPA is attempting to push forward.”
Worrell asked East if he understood him correctly that East doesn’t think it would be fair to other organizations to fund GPA without its nonprofit status when others do have theirs.
East said Assistant Town Manager David Quesenberry “did a fine job putting together this checklist” to lead council in the direction it needed to go to make sure organizations it is giving money to are “on the up and up, they’ve got their act together, they have a plan and there’s some record of all of that. To immediately deviate from this document we just adopted would kind of make all of our efforts” useless.
However, Goodman pointed out that what wasn’t addressed in the document was “how to deal with new organizations that don’t have all of that information. Since GPA is sort of re-emerging.”
“I can’t …” said East, his comment trailing off to an inaudible level.
Hawley said he assumes, after GPA’s most recent meeting, that the organization won’t make a request for funding from council.
Quesenberry said council may need to “tweek” the checklist. He suggested the town learn from its “mistakes and successes and adjust accordingly.”
To that, East added, “I would agree with Mr. Quesenberry. And, on that note, Mr. Goodman, I would agree with your comment regarding new organizations.”