Commissioners, Foundation try to bridge communication gap

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Moving forward means getting beyond the conflicts of the past, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. County officials are willing to do that, but the question to Community Foundation board members was: Were they?

"We'll let you know if we're not," board member Lynn Villard said.

The Board of Directors of the Community Foundation of Northwest Colorado met with the Moffat County Board of Commissioners Monday to resolve conflicts stemming from the Foundation's name change and financial management.

Until Monday, the Community Foundation, formerly the Museum of Northwest Colorado Foundation, had refused to provide the county with an audit of its books, something it is contractually obligated to provide. From the numbers the Foundation has provided the county so far, it's clear the Foundation is spending more than it's raising. According to Commissioner Les Hampton, the Foundation spent $31,238 last year and only reported $18,797 in revenue. County officials are concerned enough about the state of the Foundation's finances that they are demanding the Foundation provide and audit, despite the estimated $4,000 to $5,000 expense.

The Foundation was created in 1997 to raise funds to purchase the cowboy and gunfighter collection for the Museum of Northwest Colorado. The Foundation, after unsuccessfully negotiating for the collection, asked the county to step in, handle the negotiations and finance the purchase.

On Monday, the Foundation Board presented the Commissioners with a $82,980.16 check for the second payment on the collection and offered to clear up any misconceptions officials had about the Foundation or its goals.

"We want to fully understand any issues anyone has related to the Foundation," Villard said. "We're sincerely interested in resolving any issues that are outstanding."

According to Raftopoulos, the issues are communication, an audit and the Foundation's ability to make future payments on the gunfighter collection.

"From our perspective, we have been very diligent to the taxpayers, very diligent to the museum and very diligent to the Foundation Board to get this resolved," Raftopoulos said.

Communication between the county and the Foundation and the community the Foundation and has become non-existent, Raftopoulos said.

The Foundation changed its name and focus despite urgings from the commissioners to wait, changed its bylaws without consulting with an attorney, had meetings that were closed to the public and refused to release information on its budget.

"The commissioners were not opposed [to the name change], but we wanted to look into it," Raftopoulos said. "We have never said we don't want you to be successful, but we the taxpayers are the bankers for this organization."

"The Foundation is responsible to the community and I don't think you went out an educated the community and got their buy in," Hampton said. "Too many people ask me what's going on with the foundation."

According to Villard, who acted as the spokesman for the Foundation, the board realizes they have been poor communicators. Villard didn't say whether the Foundation Board had a plan to address the communication issue.

One concern the Commissioners have is that all financial agreements between the two entities are with the Museum of Northwest Colorado Foundation, not the Community Foundation.

The Foundation is operating off original donations, an Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Grant and contributions from the city, the county and the museum. Very little has been raised in the past three years.

That lack of funding has county officials concerned the Foundation won't be able to pay off the loan on the collection.

"That is a concern to us," Hampton said. "Are you able to raise funds?"

The Foundation Board wants to make a portion of the cowboy and gunfighter collection part of a traveling collection so it can be used to raise funds.

"We recognize we signed an obligation to pay $710,000 and that's our principal goal," Villard said. "We need the county commissioners to support us. If the commissioners don't back us, residents won't contribute. We don't have the money now, and I can't promise we'll get it. We'll do our best to raise the money on an annual basis, but whether or not we can, who knows?"

Not only did the commissioners demand the Foundation board communicate better with the county, they asked the Foundation board communicate better with the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

"I'm willing to go forward and work together and if you're not willing to do that, then we should separate and go forward," Raftopoulos said.

She asked the Foundation board several times whether they were willing to move beyond the differences between the two entities. Members didn't say "no" and they didn't say "yes."

"I would be surprised if the answer is "no," Villard said.

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