August 22, 2014

Medina
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Commissioners’ check written to charity bounces, spawns criticism

Pat Geissman

Pat Geissman

MEDINA — A trustee of the Lodi Railroad Museum has criticized the way Medina County commissioners handle their charity giving after a check donated to the museum bounced.

The Lodi Railroad Museum still is waiting for the $3,875 promised to the group.

The museum is one of six local charities expecting to benefit from the commissioners’ 15th annual charity ball, which raised more than $23,000 from sponsorships and tickets sold to the Jan. 18 event at Weymouth Country Club.

Because commissioners never established a nonprofit corporation to handle their charity fundraiser, they designate a local charity to distribute the money raised.

This year, commissioners chose the Medina County Animal Rescue and Evacuation Group.

But Joanne Slorgie, a member of the railroad museum’s board of trustees, said funneling the donations from the commissioners’ ball through an animal rescue group is confusing.

“How do we justify to our people and to the record books why we’re getting money from an animal organization?” Slorgie said, after questioning the commissioners at their meeting Tuesday.

The Lodi Railroad Museum is on the National Register of Historic places, and the group hopes to restore a caboose this fall. Slorgie said the books have to accurately reflect all receipts of money and she’s worried the check from commissioners could put her organization at risk.

Slorgie has filed a complaint with the Lodi Police Department and made a call to the state auditor’s office.

“I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong,” she said. “I’m just not sure we should accept the money until we know.

“We’ve worked very hard and we don’t want to get involved if something has been done wrong here.”

County Commissioner Pat Geissman said commissioners always have partnered with local charities to distribute the money raised at the ball.

“We collect the money and transfer to the account of the animal rescue and then they write the checks,” she said. “That way, people writing a check can still get a tax write-off.”

Geissman said this is the first time the practice has been questioned.

“It’s a one-time event, and the (county) prosecutor told us to just go through one of the charities we’re giving money to,” she said.

In earlier years, commissioners partnered with Alternative Paths and a local kidney foundation to dispense the funds.

In response to Slorgie’s criticism, Geissman said commissioners have agreed to set up their own nonprofit corporation to dispense the money raised at the ball and has begun the paperwork to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“Hopefully by next year we’ll be able to just use our own,” she said.

Geissman said the check to the railroad museum bounced because of several factors.

She said the Animal Rescue and Evacuation Group has two accounts at FirstMerit Bank for the charity ball — one for the donation the group received from the ball and another account to hold the money to be distributed to other charities.

But Geissman said the money for the railroad museum was deposited into the wrong account and there were insufficient funds to cover the check.

Geissman said another reason the check may have bounced was the delay in getting the railroad museum to accept the money.

The group’s board of trustees initially voted against accepting the money, but later agreed, with only Slorgie voting against receiving the money.

“I just felt like something wasn’t right,” Slorgie said.

She said she had concerns about accepting the money because of the confusion in the weeks leading up to the charity ball.

“Our chairman was given a list of names and we were supposed to go out and fundraise to collect money,” she said. “We were also supposed to set up a table of eight people and pay $60 each to attend.”

But Slorgie said her organization wasn’t able to participate in the fundraising because members weren’t told about their responsibility until the last minute. The group didn’t help raise funds and didn’t reserve a table or attend the event. She also said there were internal issues among members at the time so they voted against receiving the money.

Geissman said the money still was available and a new check was on its way to the railroad museum.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.