Over the past two years, we’ve been following the City of Muncie Parks Board meetings because of the developments at Tuhey Park, and we watched how the administration, and volunteer board, primarily appointed by former Mayor Sharon McShurley, interacted with the public.
Racial tensions erupted during several meetings, and we even had Fox59 News pay a visit amidst claims of racially spurred vandalism toward one park board member.
During one of their discussions, a board member mentioned the Burt Whitely Trust Fund. Local resident Wayne Scaife started asking questions about this mysterious fund. He specifically asked Parks Board President, Mary Beth Lambert, about these funds, but was never provided with a solid answer. He finally got one tonight.
Turns out, the Burt Whitely Trust fund was set up in 1933 and has accrued interest benefiting the parks department for years at Old National Bank. It provides annual interest payments to our parks for very specific purposes like “building pools and boat dock places”, and “beautification of the parks”. In 2011, the parks department received two deposits totaling slightly over $3,100.
During the same period, over $3,700 was withdrawn for expenses that are suspect, like a vet bill for the mascot of the parks department – a cat.
Meanwhile, nearly six months lapsed, and Mr. Scaife was repeatedly told by Ms. Lambert, “The trust provides very little money and it’s mainly used for buying and planting flowers near the park sign entrances each year.”
And while the placating continued, according to receipts, both Ms. Lambert and former Parks Director Matt Bailey made expenditures for the Tuhey Pool Grand Reopening celebration last July, and charged a variety of expenses to the trust fund. Spending money on deck chairs, barricades, and pool games might be a stretch for the intended purpose of the trust fund. Whether Ms. Lambert knew about the account is unknown at this time.
One curious explanation from Ms. Lambert was that Park Superintendent Bailey was asking for a sizable withdrawal from the principal balance of the trust and it was denied since it was “overdrawn”. Why was Mr. Bailey asking for money from Old National when there was a $10,000 cash balance in the City of Muncie’s Burt Whitely account?
We’ll let those in charge of reviewing expenditures figure that one out over the coming days.
Like we said, the parks department had a 2011 year-end balance of over $10 thousand dollars in the Burt Whitely account. Since it was obvious today that several charges were inappropriate as defined by the trust, the controllers office corrected the balance. The Burt Whitely account now has a cash balance of over $13 thousand which can be used to beautify our city parks.
The new Parks Board President, Beverly Kelley, apologized for the poor handling of the account and requested an audit of the trust money and is recommending that a representative from Old National Bank present the trusts annual performance during a public meeting. That’s a great recommendation, and the public accepted her apology.
The new Parks Director, Harvey Wright, said, “We’ll get this straightened out and make sure a full accounting is made available to the people in the community.”
Transparency and responsiveness to citizens of our community is the foundation of good government, and we saw those principles put into place this evening. Follow through is essential to earn back the public trust when the former administration misused trust fund proceeds.
Oh, and in case readers are interested, the former “feline mascot” is no longer with the parks department.