Elk Rapids library refunds $505K by donor request | News

Elk Rapids library refunds $505K by donor request | News

ELK RAPIDS — Library officials will refund $505,000 donated to the organization’s capital campaign after receiving letters from two donors asking for their money back.

Refund checks will be written to the National Christian Foundation, which made two donations of $400,000 and $100,000, and to a Kewadin couple who made a $5,000 donation.

The name and address of the representative of the National Christian Foundation was redacted and their three-page letter, dated July 22 and included in the board packet, was marked “personal/confidential.”

Both donors said they’d reconsider under certain conditions.

“If the capital campaign gets back on track and the bickering of certain persons stops and positive steps are made to go ahead with the original plan as proposed, I will certainly consider making again the donations that we originally made, the NCF letter stated. The letter also states that the $400,000 donation must not be used to investigate another site lest the board be “subject to further legal action by me/others.”

“We’re being transparent and if the donor requests a refund, we will grant that request and that’s been our policy all along,” Elk Rapids Library Board President Tom Stephenson said Thursday.

Last month the library board voted to suspend fundraising efforts of the capital campaign after a series of controversies including unresolved questions about ownership of Island House, the building leased by the library.

A long-forgotten deed to the property was located in a title search and seemed to show the building is not owned by the Village of Elk Rapids but rather is jointly owned by the residents of the village and the residents of Elk Rapids Township.

A survey was contracted and research on the ownership issue is ongoing, said trustee and building committee chair Dick Hults.

Trustees also faced questions about financial record-keeping and unwarranted disciplinary actions of personnel, prior to the tenure of Stephenson, who replaced Barb Johnson as board president in February.

“I just want to make sure the donors are kept informed about what’s going on,” said Karen Simpson, a library board trustee, who last served as interim chair of the capital campaign. “If they want their money returned, we should do that if it is their wish.”

In an unrelated development, Dianne Geddes, who serves as the board’s treasurer and has been on the board for a decade, resigned Thursday, just before the close of the board’s regular monthly meeting.

“I wasn’t thinking of the formal letter so much as how to make it easy to transfer the work,” Geddes said, before receiving a round of applause for her service from the audience and fellow board members.

The board is responsible for appointing a replacement treasurer, said Library Board Director Nannette Miller, and Milton Township trustees are responsible for appointing someone to serve on the library board.

Geddes initially stated her resignation was effective immediately, though a resignation letter sent to Milton Township gives her last day as Sept. 9.

Milton Township Treasurer Liz Atkinson, who is also a library board trustee, said two people expressed interest in filling the open spot on the library board “out of the blue” and just prior to Geddes’ announcement.

The timing of their inquiries was “peculiar,” Atkinson said.

“I asked them for a letter of interest and a resume and I’m proceeding with my board,” Atkinson said. “We will appoint a representative in the manner that the taxpayers would expect us to do.”

The library board also approved the wording of a letter which will be sent to donors on capital campaign stationary, informing them fundraising efforts have been suspended until questions about the deed can be answered.

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