Lincoln Arts asked for audits

Grassroots group gathers 199 signatures
By: Carol Feineman News Messenger Editor
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Almost 200 arts supporters are asking the nonprofit Lincoln Arts to undergo independent annual financial and management audits. On July 2, a petition with 199 signatures was received at the Lincoln organization that, according to its by-laws, “support and promote arts and culture in the Lincoln area.” The petition was created “from a grassroots group who had concerns” about the organization, according to Terry Dorsey, a Lincoln resident and Dorsey Capitol Management president. Dorsey mailed the petition via UPS. Concerns by the petition-signers include why two boards have resigned within the last four years and discrepancies on attendance and proceeds from Lincoln Arts’ main fundraiser, Feats of Clay. The requested audits are for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. As of press time, Dorsey had not received a response from Lincoln Arts. When the News Messenger asked Lincoln Arts’ Executive Director Claudia Renati on Friday what the organization’s response is to the petition, Renati gave President June Reeves the phone. At first, Reeves responded that there were only 160 signatures and not 199 signatures. When asked what she would tell the petition-signers, whatever the number, Reeves said, “On the advice of our attorney, we’re under no obligations to respond except to those who are members. There were three that we responded to. There are only three who are in good standing. Mike Daley, a signer, was assistant curator for Feats of Clay the last two years. “Concerns I have is that a nonprofit organization, a 501-C organization, being a tax-exempt organization, should have its books open,” Daley said Monday. “As a nonprofit organization, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their contributors, whether they be members of Lincoln Arts or nonmembers. The accounting should be made public to them.” “It’s a fiduciary responsibility of the executive director to justify where that money goes,” Daley added. “As for any nonprofit, a full accounting to the general public who is supporting that organization should be done. It’s appalling that the board hasn’t asked.” Daley said he is a current Lincoln Arts member and has received no phone call from Lincoln Arts staff about the petition. But Renati said Tuesday that Daley is not a member. And she “won’t accept his membership because he signed the petition.” Daley’s membership in Lincoln Arts expires Jan 1, 2011, according to his membership card. Bobbie Pilliard, who resigned from the Lincoln Arts board as acting secretary this past February, signed the petition because she “would like a procedural and financial audit so the general public can see how Lincoln Arts is operating.” In her resignation letter, Pilliard wrote, “It appears that at the present time and at the present rate of cash burn, (Lincoln Arts and Cultural Foundation) is in a downward spiral toward insolvency. This is particularly disturbing because LACF’s reserve money was derived from the sale of it’s former gallery location and headquarters. Who answer the questions when the money is gone? I am very concerned about the fiduciary responsibility that a Board of Directors has to the membership of, and contributors to, a non-profit organization.” Pilliard said the money “mostly went for salaries.” Another petition signer is Jane Lares, who said she belonged to Lincoln Arts for seven years and quit in 2007. “I worked very hard as a volunteer but I didn’t think it was appreciated,” Lares said. “Too many things were going on with the board and the Renati family members. I love Feats of Clay. The whole reason for this petition has to do with how things are not running smoothly there.” Lares hopes that Lincoln Arts will go along with the audits. “We need this Lincoln Arts in our community. It’s too bad; I’m an artist and I would call artists to be in a gallery show and they’d say we won’t go there because we aren’t getting paid on time,” Lares said. “I’m concerned for the community and the Lincoln Arts members. I felt very strongly about signing the petition because any nonprofit needs to say why won’t they give us an audit, why they won’t open their books. I don’t want to hurt Feats of Clay in any way but every nonprofit needs to be accountable.” Agreeing with the need for accountability is Mayor Tom Cosgrove, who joined the Lincoln Arts board on March 2. He said in the March 4 News Messenger that his being on the board would hopefully “give folks confidence that it’s (Lincoln Arts) a good organization. “I think any organization that depends on the public for funding should be completely open and able to share all the financial information with the public,” Cosgrove said Tuesday. “I expressed my opinion to the Lincoln Arts board. My position is to share the information.” Cosgrove said the Lincoln Arts board will talk about the petition at its next meeting in August. “The community has to have confidence in nonprofits if nonprofits want those community resources,” Cosgrove said. “The public wants to know that funds are being used appropriately.”