Homeless coalition in ‘desperate financial crisis,’ closes Manchester site
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 02,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
The Bennington Coalition for the Homeless building in Manchester is shown on Tuesday.
BENNINGTON — The Bennington Coalition for the Homeless may or may not be able to accept an appropriation from the town if it’s approved, adding another wrinkle to what has been an unusual time for the nonprofit organization, including the termination of its longtime executive director Feb. 4.
Stacey New, president of the coalition’s board of directors, appeared at the Bennington Select Board meeting Monday to say that the coalition could not accept any money, even if the $7,500 appropriation that’s on this year’s town meeting ballot is approved by voters, because the financial information that was submitted at the request of the Select Board was “incomplete and incorrect.”
“We’ve been advised by various groups and funding agencies that we cannot in good faith accept the money voted in to us. It humbles me and it hurts because we are in a desperate financial crisis at this time, but we wanted to be fair, open and honest with the citizens of Bennington so that they know that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately,” she said.
The Select Board, however, said the money would still be awarded if the coalition’s board submitted correct information by June.
New called the Select Board’s decision “more generous than (the coalition) expected.”
“If the citizens do vote for this, they will not have given us their vote in vain. Our fondest hope as a board is to reorganize and rebuild this organization to serve the intended purpose for this community. Obviously, it’s a needed service. We turn people away every day,” she said.
The action by the Select Board marked the second time in about a month that the board agreed to deviate from its policy for the sake of the coalition. On Jan. 28, Kendy Skidmore, who was then executive director of the coalition, came to the Select Board and told them the organization had failed to get enough signatures on its petitions to earn a spot on the town meeting ballot.
The Select Board voted at that meeting to waive the requirement and put the coalition on the ballot. The board did greatly reduce the request from the $25,000 that was on the petitions to $7,500, the amount for which the coalition is currently on the ballot.
Select Board member Chris Oldham spoke in favor of that action at the Jan. 28 meeting and seconded the motion to give the coalition a spot on the ballot. Oldham did not disclose that he is a member of the coalition’s board of directors.
Asked during Monday’s Select Board meeting about his failure to disclose his connection to the coalition, especially after New’s comments about the coalition being “completely open and transparent,” Oldham declined to comment.
Kathy Scheele, who works in the Vermont Secretary of State’s office as director of elections, said Oldham hadn’t broken any laws by failing to disclose the connection and voting on the motions because he didn’t financially benefit from the actions but said if he had talked to her before the meeting, she would have suggested he recuse himself during the discussions.
Oldham’s term on the Select Board expires this year and he is not running for re-election.
During New’s presentation to the board, she said the coalition was not planning to close any of its facilities in Bennington and had not had to displace anyone because of its financial crisis. However, she said the Manchester site on Richville Road was being closed and the shelters were being forced to turn new applicants away.
New said she hopes the coalition will be able to receive a new financial accounting within the next 30 days so the board can apply for new grants and funding.
On Feb. 4, the coalition’s board announced that Skidmore, who had been executive director for 13 years, was terminated. Oldham said at the time that it was a personnel matter and he couldn’t provide details about the reason.
The board members have been running the organization’s daily operations since Skidmore’s departure, New told the Select Board.