Neither Chris Robling nor anyone else will be examining the checkbook register of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Educational Foundation (RBEF) any time soon.
Last week the RBEF board of directors, after an animated 20 minute discussion with Robling, voted 8 to 0 against a motion to allow him or any other interested party to examine their checkbook register.
Robling had made a request to look at the register at the board’s August meeting. Robling said then that discrepancies in the foundation’s tax returns required a detailed look at how the foundation spent the money it raised.
“I want to see where the money went,” Robling told the board at its Sept. 19 meeting.
For eight years, from at least 2004 through 2011, the RBEF’s federal IRS Form 990 stated that it was 501(c)(4) organization, even though it founded as and continues to be a 501(c)(3) organization.
Robling said that the discrepancy and incomplete tax returns made it necessary to look at the foundation’s check register.
RBEF board members unanimously disagreed.
“The 990s, guilty as charged; no doubt about it, they were sloppily done,” RBEF Treasurer Tony Miezio told Robling. “Just because these forms were sloppily done and created smoke doesn’t necessarily mean there’s fire.”
Miezio said that RBEF has sent its tax returns and annual reports since 2006 to the high school and they are available there for the public to see.
“We’ve gone well beyond what’s legally required in terms of disclosure,” Miezio said. “Those annual reports are our check registers. Plain and simple, every transaction in there is a check written.”
Board members challenged Robling to make a specific accusation.
“I would be more inclined to actually allow you to view that checkbook if you actually made a direct accusation,” Miezio told Robling at the meeting.
RBEF board President JoAnne Kosey, who writes a weekly column for the Landmark, told Robling that she felt that he was implying that she and the RBEF board had done something improper.
“Chris, do you think we have done something to defraud the public or the community?” Kosey asked. “If you think that I have done something personally to harm this organization, to harm the public, have attempted to hide something, then I would like that brought out and said so I can confront that, work with that.”
Robling’s response? “It’s time to disclose where the money went.”
Board members say that the annual reports delivered to the school disclose where the money went.
Robling insisted that he was merely seeking disclosure and not accusing anyone of anything.
“I have made no accusation, I have made no inference, but you are confronting the question of when you will tell the truth, JoAnne,” Robling said.
When asked what he was after. Robling just said “disclosure.”
Robling also directed comments toward RBEF board member and former its treasurer, David Newman.
“You will disclose something, David,” Robling said. “There is something you did not want reported.”
Miezio again challenged Robling to make a specific accusation.
“You’re not man enough to make the accusation,” Miezio told Robling.
Many RBEF board members are convinced that Robling is out to get Kosey and Newman.
“The board members believe so,” said board member Patti Corcoran after the meeting. “We can’t understand what else it would be. In every meeting you notice he goes straight to Dave and he goes straight to JoAnne. That’s a sad thing when you have two members of the community who have given this much of their time and done so much good.”
Robling said that the only reason he focuses his comments on Kosey and Newman is that Kosey was RBEF president and Newman treasurer at the times the apparently incorrect tax returns were filed and they bear responsibility.
“It’s not about the individuals it’s about the action of the individuals who occupied the office,” Robling said.
The motion that was unanimously defeated called for the board to allow Robling and any other interested party to examine its checkbook register.
The interested party language was included, apparently, because last month Miezio extended a preliminary offer to a Landmark reporter to examine the RBEF check register from 2003 to 2007 for the limited purpose of determining whether the RBEF had made any political contributions.
When the Landmark told Miezio that it would be only interested in looking at the RBEF check register if it could do so without preconditions or restrictions, Miezio told the Landmark the matter would be considered at the board’s September meeting.
Kosey said that she had been advised by attorneys that it is not a good idea to allow outsiders to examine the foundation’s checkbook.
“I did consult more than one attorney,” Kosey said. “I also consulted another organization that deals with school foundations. … Every attorney that I talked to said no.”
Other board members agreed.
“The fact that we’re not sharing the register doesn’t mean we have something to hide,” Corcoran said after the meeting. “We’re not sharing the register, because there is no need to. Our financial information is open and we report it to the IRS and the school board.”
Newman said that it wasn’t a good idea to just let anyone look at the Foundation’s check register.
“We’re not going to let him look at the check register because what he’s looking for is not there and we wouldn’t let anyone look at it anyway,” Newman said after the meeting. “We just don’t want to. We don’t have to. As far as foundations are concerned, I don’t know of any other foundation that would do it.”
After the meeting Robling was said he was disappointed with the board’s decision.
“As a community organization, they owe transparency to this community,” Robling said. “Disclosure is good.”
At the meeting Robling was blunter.
“You’re saying no to the community, but you’re not going to be able to say no to everybody.”
Some board members took that as a threat. During the meeting it was apparent that board members were exasperated with Robling.
“When Chris Robling says jump, please don’t expect my response to be how high,” Miezio said.