SPARKS FLY AGAIN OVER ‘WAKEFIELD 350’

29Jun07

Fall Festival request still on hold

A request by Wakefield 350 to use the Upper and Lower Commons on September 15 for a “Homecoming Festival,” remained a serious bone of contention and sparked another heated discussion at the June 25, 2007 meeting of the Wakefield (MA) Board of Selectmen.

The original request from Wakefield 350 was tabled at the board’s May 30 meeting after Selectman John Carney raised questions about the organization and its use of funds. Both Carney and Selectman Phyllis Hull claimed at that May 30 meeting that Wakefield 350 did not provide sufficient information to comply with the board’s policies for organizations seeking to use town property for an event.

Town Administrator Thomas Butler was asked at that meeting to try to obtain from Wakefield 350 the information in question. Butler reported at the board’s June 11 meeting that he had received some, but not all of the information that board members had requested.

While further information has since been provided by Wakefield 350 President Nancy Bertrand and Joseph Bertrand (a director of Wakefield 350), Carney last night moved to deny the group’s request to use the common on September 15.

“I made legitimate requests that are made to every organization in the town of Wakefield,” Carney said. “There’s a significant amount of arrogance shown by the Wakefield 350 committee, and I would like to discuss that publicly.”

Carney asserted that the stated purposes of Wakefield 350’s annual Midsummer Night and Fall Homecoming events have changed over the years. Carney claimed that two years ago, when he asked for an accounting, it resulted in a contentious meeting between himself and the Bertrands in Town Administrator Thomas Butler’s office.

“I’ve asked the question of every organization in this town and I got an answer,” Carney said. “But now we have exceptions. If you belong to a certain group, you shouldn’t question them. I’m tired of dealing with this issue among an organization that is calling itself the 350th Committee,” Carney said. “It’s really not a committee. It’s small group of people.”

An email from Nancy Bertrand to the selectmen states that the purpose of the Fall Festival is “to celebrate Wakefield. We have not treated this event as a fundraiser for the past three years.” The email goes on to state that “funds raised will be used for historic preservation projects, including the interior renovation of the West Ward School.”

Bertrand’s email also lists the following projects as potential uses for the $92,383.75 that Wakefield 350 now claims to have in its treasury: a consultant to help make downtown Wakefield a National Register District ($5,000-$8,000); work on the Hartshorne House ($2,000); work on the World War II Veterans’ Memorial $2,000); and an unspecified donation to preserve the West Ward School as a town museum.

Bertrand’s email also specifically addresses Carney, blaming him for last year’s cancellation of the Midsummer Night event.

“In 2006, we did not hold the event because, frankly, your criticism broke our spirit,” Bertrand writes.

Selectman Hull noted that many residents appreciate the efforts of Wakefield 350 in sponsoring the annual Midsummer Night and Fall Homecoming events. “These events have helped to make Wakefield a special place,” Hull said.

“Nevertheless,” Hull continued, “it is the responsibility of the selectmen to do due diligence in approving any request for use of these facilities, particularly when they are associated with a charity or a group that is perceived to be raising money for town facilities.”

Hull said that she did some online research and made phone calls to the offices of the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Secretary of State. Hull said she found a copy of Wakefield 350’s 2006 Annual Report online, listing the following officers: Nancy Bertrand, President and Treasurer; Jill Tapper of Salisbury, MA, Clerk; and Joseph Bertrand, Director.

Hull told the board that she was told by the Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office that, with the exception of 2003, Wakefield 350 has failed to file the annual report required of all 501(3c) corporations, which must include a copy of the organizations tax return.

“No reports were filed before this time or after this time,” Hull said. “The Attorney General’s office indicated that Wakefield 350 should not be raising money as a charity or a 501(c3), because it is not in good standing with their office.”

Hull said that she hoped it was all a misunderstanding, “but we need to clarify this as soon as possible.” Hull said that she believed that most members of the board wanted to approve Wakefield 350’s request, but the board needed more information. Hull requested that Wakefield 350 supply the board with its tax returns for the last several years.

Selectman Albert Turco said that he had come to the meeting intending to vote to grant the request from Wakefield 350 to use the Common. Turco indicated however that he was concerned that, based on Hull’s conversations with the Attorney General’s office, Wakefield 350 may not be presently entitled to raise funds. Turco moved to table the matter and to have Town Counsel Thomas Mullen investigate further.

Carney responded to Turco’s motion and questioned whether the board was being intimidated by Wakefield 350.

“I’m not the first selectman to be attacked by the Bertrands,” Carney said. “They went on the attack here with some outrageous remarks by their members,” Carney added, referring to some private emails that had been sent to him. “I’m the bad guy here because I asked the question. All I’m asking is for everyone to use the same standards here.

“This is four or five people who are running this organization,” Carney added, alleging that remarks made in emails sent to him were insulting and “an attempt to intimidate. I’m not going to be intimidated,” Carney vowed, “and if you want to call this arrogance, then call it arrogance. But that’s not how we run things in the town of Wakefield. Every other town organization has come through when we’ve asked this question.”

Hull warned that the selectmen could themselves be vulnerable if they did not exercise due diligence.

“They’ve been raising money and they have no right to be raising money,” Hull said. “There is no committee. It’s just those three people,” Hull added, referring to the Bertrands and Tapper.

Selectman John Encarnacao supported Turco’s motion to table. “I think the Bertrands have given a lot to the town and have worked hard on these events,” Encarnacao said, adding that he hoped that the board could “take away the friction” from the whole matter.

Selectman Stephen Maio said that he and his family had attended and enjoyed nearly every event sponsored by Wakefield 350 over the years. But Maio admitted that a number of townspeople still had questions.

Maio said that in his view the email that the Bertrands sent was disrespectful toward Carney, and “beneath the people who wrote it.”

Maio agreed with Turco’s motion to table the request and to have Mullen investigate Wakefield 350’s legal status. Maio noted that the board does have a policy and that Carney had asked for the same information from all groups that come before the board.

“This group is no different than any other,” Maio said.

Maio also noted the large amount of money in Wakefield 350’s treasury and said that he would like to see actual donations come in, rather than a just a list of possibilities.

The board voted unanimously to table the request from Wakefield 350.

[This story originally ran in the June 26, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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