Chesterton Tribune

Breaking up is hard to do: Friends of the Dunes rebuffs NPS demand for funds, says group is for State Park, too

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Constantine Dillon, superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, has elected to sever the national parks long-standing relationship with the Friends of Indiana Dunes.

Dillon is also demanding that the Friends remit to the National Park Service (NPS) not only those funds specifically designated by the Friends to support the National Lakeshore—as the Friends is obligated to do under its fundraising agreement with NPS—but also a much larger sum, totaling $262,162.53 in six separate accounts, not specifically designated.

To Dillon's demand for remittance of the undesignated sum, the Friends response is basically this: Nuts.

Dillon announced his decision to allow the various agreements between NPS and the Friends to expire in a letter to Friends Chair Zella Olson dated May 10. Dillon justifies that decision on two grounds: that NPS and the Friends no longer share a common "vision" and thus have been unable to agree "upon the purposes and uses of funds raised by the Friends"; and that the Friends financial accounting lacks "transparency," to the point that "We are unable to determine where funds raised on behalf of the (N)ational (L)akeshore may have been commingled with those raised on behalf of the (S)tate (P)ark."

Dillon then makes his demand for remittance: first of $45,155.15 in five separate accounts which he maintains are all specifically designated to support the National Lakeshore; and second of $262,162.53 in six accounts which are not specifically designated.

"It is our position that because the Certificate of Incorporation specifically identifies support of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the primary purpose of the Friends of Indiana Dunes, that we can conclude that the funds not specifically identified for any other purpose must be in support of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore," Dillon states in his letter.

Not so fast, Friends attorney Morris Sunkel replied in a letter of his own to Dillon dated June 15.

For one thing, Sunkel counters, Dillon has correctly identified the four accounts specifically designated to support the National Lakeshore but "For some reason" has "erroneously" included a fifth: the "Hawk Fund Investment" totaling $6,931.59. Less that sum, Sunkel states, the Friends will remit the remaining amounts totaling around $37,700 as it is obligated to do.

The Friends will not, however—as Dillon invited them to do—distribute those moneys to "another non-profit organization" which supports the National Lakeshore but directly to NPS. "Funds should be deposited in a special account that is consistent with the purposes for which the funds were donated," Sunkel states.

The Friends will also not remit to NPS any of the $262,162.53 in undesignated funds, Sunkel further states. The National Lakeshore "is not legally entitled to take funds from a not-for-profit entity by alleging that the Articles of Incorporation of Friends are intended only to support the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. . . . (I)t is obvious that the Friends of the Indiana Dunes Inc. was created for numerous things and not specifically for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. To then allege that unspecified funds should, therefore, go to the National Lakeshore is without merit or understanding of the legal process and certainly would not occur."

"(I)t is obvious that someone within your organization is failing to adequately advise you," Sunkel adds.

For the record, Dillon is not laying claim to a further $37,145.14 in six accounts maintained by the Friends and specifically designated to support Indiana Dunes State Park.

Olson

Olson, in her own statement released to the Chesterton Tribune on Wednesday, contends that the root of the problem between the Friends and NPS is that NPS does not want to share the Friends with any other organization, namely, Indiana Dunes State Park.

"We have been told We are of no use to the NPS unless we exclusively raise funds and advocate for NPS priorities," Olson state. "We have continued to offer funding for NPS programs and activities but have been turned down because they have a budget for interpretation. We will continue to offer our support. It is Mr. Dillon's decision to decline or accept. We thank our members and the community for your continued support."

Olson also rejects Dillon's position that the Friends exists chiefly to support the National Lakeshore and cites the Friends not-for-profit status: "Our purpose: This corporation is organized exclusively for charitable, education, and literary purposes, including for such purposes, making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Code. To promote all types of charitable, educational, and literacy work in Northwest Indiana."

Finally, Olson denies Dillon's characterization of the Friends accounting practices. "We use Quick Books Not-for-Profit accounting system, maintain three checking accounts, and 18 separate investment accounts including CDs," she states. "We have a bank account and investment accounts for all restricted funds that were raised or donated for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We have quarterly meetings with both parks. Our treasurer gives a report on all income and expenses. We have repeatedly said the books were available for audit but they never audited the books. Also we have given them all information they asked for."

On one issue Olson does agree with Dillon, as she notes: "For many years the NPS and the Friends have not agreed upon purposes and uses of funds raised by the Friends."

 

Posted 6/23/2011