Foundation changes cause waves

Commissioners contend Community Foundation's moves ill-advised, possibly illegal

The Museum of Northwest Colorado Foundation's recent reorganization has raised some serious concerns from the Moffat County Commissioners.

The newly named Community Foundation of Northwest Colorado has changed its original mission, and is looking to handle more and varied responsibilities. The Commissioners are demanding that the $500,000 debt the Foundation owes the county be paid before any new mission be authorized, and that monies being managed or collected for the Museum, including public funds, be given to the Museum.

"The foundation was formed by the Moffat County Commissioners to act as a fund-raising vehicle for the Cowboy collection and the Museum," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "The articles of incorporation limit it to collecting, holding and investing money for the Museum and that's it. It's hard to understand these actions."

The Board of Directors for the Museum Foundation voted April 5 to change the Foundation's name to the Community Foundation of Northwest Colorado and to change is mission to general fund-raising and historical preservation. The Foundation was originally established at the end of 1998.

"Being the Community foundation gives us a broader scale rather than just supporting the museum," said Foundation Director Dona Shue.

The Commissioners want the debt owed for the collection paid before the foundation begins any other project. The foundation still owes the county more than $500,000 for the cowboy and gunfighter collection.

"I'm sure the foundation could do wonderful things for the community, but it needs to take care its original responsibility first," Raftopoulos said. "We've tried to tell them that the money for the collection cannot be spent on anything but the cowboy collection. [The Foundation's] mission, stated in the original bylaws, was to raise private money to pay for the collection period. The Commissioners are not happy with the decision to change the name and amend the bylaws."

Raftopoulos was a member of the board when the vote to change the Foundation's name was taken.

"I repeatedly said that we needed to wait for the legal answers to come back, to see if the move was proper, but the move was made anyway," Raftopoulos said.

She then resigned her position on the board.

"A process should have been followed," she said. "Bring the idea to the County Commissioners, allow for public input, then look at the bylaws and articles of incorporation.

"The way the County and the county lawyer view it, this foundation was given public money to be held in trust for the museum, and now with this change, that accountability and responsibility is lost," Raftopoulos said.

The county contributed $75,000, and the city $50,000, as matching funds for a $200,000 Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Grant to help fund the Foundation.

Officials with the newly-named Community Foundation of Northwest Colorado don't think they did anything wrong.

"Our original mission was to pursue efforts to make the Museum financially self sufficient. We we're trying to get the museum off the tax rolls, but that didn't seem to be working," said Shue. "The two sides have disagreed over the mission from the beginning. We didn't foresee any issues, so we went ahead with the name change and reorganization; the state has accepted our new bylaws."

Now the Foundation can spearhead preservation projects throughout the county, and raise money to support different cultural, educational and recreational projects throughout Northwest Colorado, Shue said. It can also act as an agent for grant applications.

William Lawrence, who once served as legal counsel to the Foundation, resigned in May of 2000 because of the Foundation's decision.

"It is my personal view that the sole purpose of a foundation should be to raise funds for the entity it supports," Lawrence stated in his letter of resignation. "A foundation should not attempt to dictate how an entity should run its operation, nor should it attempt to own the assets of the entity.

"It is my view that the donations were given to, or for, the benefit of the Museum, and not the Foundation."

Lawrence said it was his understanding that the Foundation's primary function was to support the Museum and raise funds for the collection.

"I still feel the decision to resign was right, and would make the same choice again."

Museum Director Dan Davidson is also frustrated with the Foundation's fund management.

"The Foundation was formed to support the Museum and raise funds for the cowboy collection purchase," Davidson said. "I have struggled to get even a small amount of the money for the Museum and its expenses from them. There are funds specifically earmarked for the Museum, and yet they have not been passed on to us."

At the May 10 Community Foundation fund-raising dinner, the hosts said the money collected that night would be used exclusively for its train depot preservation project, angering the Commissioners even further.

"After paying off their debt to us, they can go and do whatever projects they want, but they must pay off this debt first," Raftopoulos said. "This involves public money, and our position is that because of that, the Foundation must fulfill it's responsibilities concerning the cowboy collection and any Museum funds. We're very disappointed in what has happened."

With the Foundation's refusal to follow what the Commission-ers' view as binding law concerning the Foundation's actions and management of public funds, the Commissioners are considering the recent developments, and possible options for action. They may act soon to deal with the situation, Raftopoulos said, and that action may be asking that the county's original contribution be returned.

The Foundation's next payment to the county is due June 14, and will be about $84,000. Foundation officials plan to make that payment.

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