by Ivan Foley
Allegations of a lack of accountability in money management and a possible conflict of bylaws has been given as reasons for a Parkville organization losing out on thousands of dollars in grant money.
A marketing grant from one Parkville organization to another has been pulled after the sponsoring Parkville Old Towne Market Community Improvement District (referenced in this article as POTMCID or simply CID) says it needs better accountability from Main Street Parkville Association (MSPA).
The CID has withdrawn $15,000 that had remained in a $30,000 grant intended for MSPA.
Officials from the CID say that since its formation in 2006, the CID--supported by a one cent downtown sales tax--has worked closely with the Main Street Parkville organization to support and fund a marketing program for Downtown Historic Parkville.
Over this time frame, officials from the CID say POTMCID has provided more than $225,000 in grants to support the MSPA marketing campaigns, including radio, television and print marketing. This is in addition to the grants POTMCID has made to MSPA for downtown beautification, developing and supporting the MSPA website, administrative expenses, event fees and advertising, snow removal, and street and building lighting.
Tom Hutsler, chairman of the CID, says the CID has worked in partnership with MSPA to support efforts for enhancing Parkville's downtown and business viability.
The POTMCID board says it funded these grants after a thorough review of MSPA's financial statements and the proposed activities to be funded by the grant. The grants were approved based on the marketing activities proposed by MSPA and were funded as reimbursements to actual expenses for the activities.
Earlier this year, the CID approved a $30,000 grant requested by MSPA to support a digital marketing campaign to promote Downtown Parkville and the various MSPA events that bring thousands of visitors and shoppers to downtown.
Hutsler says the grant was approved to fund a digital marketing campaign. In its proposal to POTMCID, MSPA confirmed the marketing campaign would include production and airing of a video about Downtown Parkville on Spectrum television channels beginning in January.
POTMCID was supportive of the video campaign to bring shoppers to downtown, especially during the early months of 2017, which Hutsler said is consistently a time when there are fewer shoppers coming to downtown.
In late spring, POTMCID reimbursed MSPA $15,000 of the approved grant funds for the marketing activities. Hutsler says at that time MSPA was unable to provide up-to-date financial statements. The CID board requested MSPA provide the financial statements as soon as possible, Hutsler explained.
Hutsler says MSPA officials then reported to the CID they were unhappy with the production of the video that was targeted to run beginning in January and requested the video not be aired. Hutsler said this issue was not resolved until May when a new video was produced.
According to Hutsler, the CID was very concerned the “free” promotion for downtown was not resolved until late spring, missing what he says is the critical period of time from January through April to promote downtown.
In addition, Hutsler says MSPA informed the CID in April that its books were not correct or up-to-date for 2016.
The new MSPA executive director was working to correct and update the books but had not completed the task, according to the CID. This POTMCID board informed MSPA all grants are based on accurate and up-to-date accounting.
Members of the CID board say they offered their assistance in clearing up the financial statements. However, as of the Sept. 6 meeting of the POTMCID board, MSPA had not provided the updated, correct 2016 financial statements, Hutsler said.
At the Sept. 6 meeting, the CID approved a resolution to rescind the remaining $15,000 of the originally approved grant of $30,000.
This decision, Hutsler says, was made based on the fact MSPA had not provided the updated, correct financial statements and had allegedly mismanaged the grant funds because of the delay in the television advertising until May.
“It is critical for the CID to be transparent and to follow our established guidelines for awarding grants,” said Hutsler. “We are responsible for assuring the sales tax supporting the CID funds is used for the purposes defined when the sales tax was approved.”
In addition, Hutsler said the CID board expressed serious concern that MSPA was not following its own bylaws concerning conflict of interest of board members.
“[ARTICLE II. Board of Directors. D. Qualifications. 4. The individual is not in direct influence of another board member or employee of the Corporation. This includes employees, landlords, lessees, family members, or other capacities deemed to be a conflict of interest by the sitting Board of Directors.]”
The most recent revision of the MSPA bylaws, which included this description of conflict of interest for board members, was approved by the MSPA board in May 2017.
Hutsler said CID officials are concerned that John Putnam and his wife Kelly (owners of Cool Vintage Watches) are tenants of Mike Emmick of Edward Jones, who is the vice president of the MSPA board. Kelly Putnam is also the paid executive director of MSPA.
Reached by phone Tuesday night, Kelly Putnam declined to comment in detail on any matters dealing with bylaws, saying that topic would be an issue for the MSPA board to discuss.
She did say in her opinion the MSPA is not in violation of its bylaws. She declined to go into specifics, saying the CID had not provided details to MSPA in writing in regard to why the grant was pulled. She declined the opportunity to hear specifically in what way the CID is alleging the MSPA is violating its own bylaws.
As for issues of money management inside the MSPA, Putnam said there were issues with the 2016 financial records but “we worked diligently to correct” those.
“The MSPA financial records are current and reconciled and accurate through August of 2017,” she said.
The CID notified MSPA that it was pulling the grant effective immediately. Putnam said the MSPA received the letter from the CID on Sept. 10.
“The POTMCID board looks forward to supporting future MSPA grant requests when MSPA provides up-to-date and accurate financial statements and confirm they would appropriately manage any future grants,” said Hutsler. “We encourage the MPSA board to remedy the conflicts with their bylaws.”