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Treasurer resigns from Kitsap 9/11 Memorial Committee, says spending a problem

Cheryl Stauff is not opposed to having a 9/11 memorial at Evergreen Park in Bremerton, but she does oppose the methods of the committee seeking to build it.

In mid-August, Stauff quietly resigned as treasurer of the Kitsap 9/11 Memorial Committee. Last Wednesday, Stauff spoke a little louder when, before the Bremerton City Council,  she addressed the reasons behind her resignation – communication and a lack of budget.

“I didn’t want any impropriety in anything I was responsible for,” Stauff later said.

Stauff became involved with the memorial project when she helped at the Committee’s March auction fundraiser and attended her first meeting the next month.

The previous treasurer gave Stauff all bookkeeping files at the end of June and she officially assumed her duties as treasurer on Aug. 1 just as a new bank account for the memorial was activated.

She resigned from the position Aug. 15 at the Committee meeting. The Committee’s director of operations also resigned at the same meeting.

From July 2010 to mid-August 2011, the Committee fundraised about $102,000 and about 40 percent of that amount had been spent on expenses, Stauff said. She also said some of the files she received included deposits with no explanations, adding that the bookkeeping was not as organized as it could have been. The total balance in the account at the end of her term was $60,537.45, Stauff said.

It’s the spending that concerns her.

Todd Best, the former director of operations for the Kitsap 9/11 Memorial Committee, said he resigned from his office for similar reasons as Stauff.

“They are spending it faster than it’s coming in,” he said.

Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Roy Lusk, executive board committee chair,  Wednesday said that the fundraising total was about $120,000. About $40,000 has gone to expenses, including transporting the steel beams and T-shirt orders.

The recent departure of committee members was at their own choosing and he respects that, said Lusk.

Lusk said the organization does not have a “spending budget per se.”

The 33 percent of total fundraised money that has gone toward expenses doesn’t cause alarm for the committee. If the economy was thriving, less money would be going toward expenses, Lusk said.

“In this day in age, you have to spend money to get money. Everybody wishes we had 120 [thousand] in the bank and that it wouldn’t cost us anything,” Lusk said.

This year’s 9/11 groundbreaking and 10-year remembrance event brought in $7,693.90 in donations, said Lusk.

The ceremonial groundbreaking  went on even though the 9/11 committee failed to provide the City Council a rough outline of the new plans and cost estimates Sept. 1 as agreed to in writing.

Last June the original plans for the multi-acre memorial project were sent to the planning and design stage after the City Council, and some parks board members, found them unconnected  to Bremerton or Kitsap County and in some instances frightening.

To facilitate the redesign, an agreement was drawn up requiring the 9/11 Committee to get more public input and redesign the memorial based on the input. Plans outlined the way forward for the project design and public interaction.

At least three more public sessions are to be held before any new design would move forward to approval by the  City Council.

Director Of Parks and Recretation Wyn Birkenthal, said the memorial designer, CK Fire Commissioner and architect Dave Fergus, has not yet made substantial changes to the previous designs and drawings.

During the week of Sept. 1, Bremerton City Council President Will Maupin said he’d not heard from the 9/11 Memorial Committee.

That guiding agreement was approved by the City Council during its July 6 meeting.

The 9/11 Committee itself signed the agreement just days before the groundbreaking ceremony, according to Birkenthal.

The committee’s treasurer position has been filled and the committee decided to forgo the director of operations position, said Lusk.

“I think when someone says there is a lack of communication, there very well may be,” Lusk said.

Other concerns Stauff has include non-executive members attending executive board meetings and the slow response time in thanking supporters and contributors — or no recognition at all, she said.

About 25 individuals and organizations who have donated significantly to the project are not recognized on the Committee’s website and an agenda item from a February Committee meeting called to write ‘thank you’ letters to recent donors.

When Stauff resigned in August, the letters still had not been written, she said.

“There has been so much help. We got so inundated that we fell behind,” Lusk said about formally thanking donors. “We’re working on that right now. Everyone that’s supported us is greatly appreciated.”

Lusk added that in certain circumstances, non-executive board members may attend the executive meetings to give reports and that they do not have voting power.

Stauff said she hopes that the City Council will not only look into the design of the memorial but also the Memorial Committee’s ability to inform the  public on when meetings are held and to properly document donations raised and expenditures.

The City Council has not adopted an official position based on the “personnel shakeup” on resignation, City Councilmember Roy Runyon said last week.

“We provide political support,” Runyon said. “We don’t have any government control on how they operate.”

Runyon said he remains supportive of the 9/11 memorial to be built at Evergreen Park in Bremerton — as the City Council has already approved.

His concern is that the memorial design be viable, scaled properly and addresses the concerns that citizens have voiced. Making sure that the memorial is maintainable so as not to rack up additional operation and maintenance costs is also important, he said, adding that he prefers that a water feature not be included since it could be costly.

City Councilmember Jim McDonald, who is a member on the 9/11 Memorial Committee — the general committee, not the executive board — said that there have been “more volunteers than ever” at the last few Committee meetings.

Stauff’s reasons for resigning from the Committee were due to “little disagreements internally,” McDonald said, adding that it is not an uncommon occurrence for a volunteer group.

“I think the organization is strong. They are having some growing pains obviously,” he said.

McDonald does not have any concerns and said the Committee can now refocus on the design process and gathering more public input since they are no longer planning for the 10-year remembrance event, which a lot of energy went into.

“I have total faith that this group will get this done. They are dedicated. Everyone is passionate,” McDonald said.

Birkenthal attended last week’s City Council meeting, which was when he learned of Stauff’s resignation when she addressed it during the meeting’s public comment period.

“I was caught by surprise. I have no comment,” Birkenthal said Tuesday. “I have no authority on the inner workings of the committee or on fundraising.”

To his knowledge, there is no investigation into the concerns that Stauff based her resignation on, Birkenthal said.

The Sept. 1 deadline to forward estimates and updated designs to City Council passed without the Committee presenting any new materials but Birkenthal said thayt a lot of time went into organizing the groundbreaking ceremony and that the city and Committee are on the same page to get more public input and the design process underway again.

Birkenthal said he is “satisfied” with the decision to slow down the design process to ensure a timeless memorial that will be an asset to the city and region is created.

Fergus said that gathering more public input on the design will start up next month or November. He said that no changes have been made from the original design concepts yet but that the committee is ready to reengage in the design process.

The memorial is estimated to cost about $2 million, Fergus said.

Best, also a former New York City firefighter, said that unless the Committee fixes the “wrongs” on excessive spending and poor communication, the memorial will not be built.

“If there are structural or organizational problems, I hope they get those resolved so they can move forward,” Runyon said. “We like a viable organization. If an organization is not viable, then it would be a significant issue.”

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