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Friends, Council on Aging officially split

March 30, 2012

180 has learned in the past few days that Patrick Shield and Christine Coury both appear to be mounting campaigns for School Committee this year. Coury appears to be anti-override, while Shield doesn’t appear to have publicly announced his override position yet.

I would like to discuss the latest twist in the ongoing saga of the Friends of the Walpole Council on Aging.

As many 180 readers know, back in October I wrote a story for 180 and for The Walpole Times about the Friends not being in compliance with the Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.) As a 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in this state, they are required to file annually with the Secretary of the Commonwealth and they must also file an annual information return with the IRS. They have not filed with the IRS in many years, meaning they lost their ability to collect tax-deductible donations last year.

The Times has been trying for years to obtain financial information from the Friends, including how much money they have raised, but they have never disclosed this information over the years. The Times recently learned that they had raised about $65,000 for a new senior center.

The relationship between the Friends and the Council continued to be very strained during the months since that story. Last week, the conflict reached a final low point when the Friends announced in the Times that they would stop raising money for the Council, citing “nothing but resistance” from the current Council.

In the Council’s defense, I would like to say that during my time working on that story about the Friends I had a very difficult time getting people at the Friends to communicate with me. Phone messages and emails were not returned and I made every effort to get the Friends to give me a fair version of their side of the story. On the other hand, members of the Council did talk openly to me about their version of events.

The only contact I ever got with anyone at the Friends was through a brief phone call I had with a Friends official near the beginning of my investigation for that story, when I made them aware of what I was looking into and they said they were “aware” of the compliance issues but didn’t want to speak publicly until they could speak to the rest of the board (that is mentioned in the story.) I also got in touch with a former treasurer of the group, listed on their 2003 IRS information return (the most recent return they filed) but she hung up on me when I identified myself and said what I was working on.

The last time I have reached out to the Friends was when I left a phone message with a Friends official a few days before that story appeared in the Times, informing them that the story was to be published and that it included all of the information about their non-compliance as I had discovered and I was hoping they would call me back before it got printed. Needless to say, that message went unreturned and the rest, as we say, is history.

It is important to note that since that story was printed, the Friends did file the appropriate paperwork with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and recently filed paperwork to change their name to the Friends of Walpole’s Elders.

They continue to remain out of compliance with the IRS, meaning they have essentially not filed any documentation or forms whatsoever regarding how much money they have brought in or are spending. They are STILL not tax-exempt and CAN NOT collect donations that would be tax-deductible for the donor. If they remain non tax-exempt, they may eventually have to file as a for-profit business according to an IRS spokesperson (see my original story.)

The Times reported this week that they are working to get back in compliance. But Guidestar, an online information service about non-profits, reports that they have not filed an information return with the IRS since 2003, which means for almost a decade they have been out of compliance.

The Friends say this is merely a case where paperwork was accidentally not filed during a transition period between two different treasurers. That’s understandable, but if it took nine years to transition from one treasurer to another I respectfully suggest that something else appears to be going on. You can’t just ignore the IRS for nine years. Paperwork is a hassle (especially with the IRS – which as a conservative I am not a fan of) but it must be done and the Friends should not have been soliciting donations until they got it all together. Town officials also should not have been publicly insisting that everything was fine and dandy and everyone could keep donating to the Friends. This organization wouldn’t even divulge how much money they raised to the local newspaper, let alone the IRS.

The Friends have promised that now that they are no longer fundraising, they will return all senior center donations to the original donors.

The first step in building a new senior center is deciding where to put it and what it will look like. This requires a comprehensive plan from Town Hall, of which there is none and never has been even after all these years. Town Hall has consistently failed to have a comprehensive plan for new municipal facilities that includes a sorely-needed police station and a new senior center. I would urge people to hold on to their money for a new senior center until the town has a firm plan and sticks to it. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately – just look at the way Town Hall botched the old library reuse process.

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