The Free Press December 11, 2008
Due to Free Press space limitations, this column appeared on this site December 4, but not in TFP until December 11
Just when you thought that you had heard all of the great excuses, along comes another doozey. Even better than "The dog ate my homework", "Your check is in the mail", and "I just work here". How about " Dave Woglom said I could do it "!
Yep, that's how Qtown Historical Society President Nancy Roberts is trying to justify having allowed the Barack Obama campaign to use the borough-owned "barn" for a month of fundraising phone calls. Despite the clear prohibition in the lease that says "At no time is any revenue to be generated from use of the properties and buildings for any private purpose". And despite the fact that her buddy Woglom quit in disgrace as Borough Manager two years ago, when Obama was just a skinny guy with big ears and a funny name.
When Roberts was caught, her excuse was that she had been "given permission" by Woglom back in 2004 to allow her pals in the 145th District Democratic Committee to meet in the barn. So, naturally, she assumed that it was OK for other fellow Dems to use it years later for political phone calls and fundraising. I told you that it was a doozey!!! And this from a woman who ran (unsuccessfully) for council last year - and hopes to run again! How ridiculous is this? Let me count the ways...
The borough manager has no authority to grant that type of permission. It requires the blessings of council, but, apparently, Roberts and Woglom had their own version of "Don't ask, don't tell". In the wake of Woglom's departure, council has discovered that he frequently acted alone, with his own agenda. And buddy Roberts was all too willing to be the beneficiary of his secrecy. She even chipped in by failing to create the watchdog committee of council and QHS members called for in the lease. And this from a woman who hopes to run for council - again.
And how did the 145th pay for the use of the building? Not a fixed rent like everyone else. They held a 50/50 raffle - an illegal fundraiser. What a great deal. Qtown taxpayers subsidize the building, and Roberts' political buddies benefit! Too bad that it violates IRS regulations, which require not-for-profit 501c3 organizations like QHS to charge political groups the "customary and usual" rent paid by everyone else (those poor saps who don't have sweetheart arrangements with Nancy Roberts and Dave Woglom). I personally have never attended a wedding that held a 50/50 to pay the hall. And neither Woglom, nor anyone in QT, can waive IRS laws.
Council instructed Manager Scott McElree to investigate the matter. Among his findings: "I interviewed Mr. Woglom by phone... Mr. Woglom did not recall a conversation with Ms. Roberts in 2004 or 2005 specifically pertaining to the rental of the barn building to the Democratic 145th District".
Either Woglom or Roberts is lying here. But let's assume that Woglom is just covering his own butt (again), and that he did somehow offer Roberts his "approval" for the 145th meetings. Of course, he had no authority to do so. But beyond that, it is unlikely that he was asked for, or gave, specific permission for details of the meeting - like the 50/50 rent. And unquestionably he didn't give approval for the Obama fundraising four years in the future. But Roberts wants us to believe that it was just the same thing. And this from a woman who hopes to run for council - again.
Roberts is not a poor, confused good-Samaritan volunteer who just followed bad advice. She knows how things are supposed to work in the borough. She has attended dozens of meetings. And, she ran for....well, you know. As President of QHS, she has repeatedly come to council on issues involving the lease: asking for your tax dollars for her private organization, asking for borough labor for her private organization, asking for waivers of borough policy for her private organization. If she had a hush-hush deal with Woglom, she surely had to know that it wasn't kosher. To now use it as the excuse for the Obamans is insulting to the community, and embarrassing to her board.
In fact, if she actually did believe that the Obamans' use was covered by the 2004 Woglom "permission", why did she bother to call her board members at home and tell them that the borough had "approved" the deal? She didn't call them for each 145th meeting. Obviously she saw a difference. Keep in mind that the lease has a prohibition on private fundraising because borough taxpayers subsidize QHS. In essence, we all were forced to contribute to the Obama campaign.
And McElree's report detailed other lease breaches: Illegal use under the zoning. Failure to provide required insurance coverages to protect residents against liability claims. And, of course, Roberts' failure to form that watchdog committee. Quite a record, since the short lease has only nine terms. Oh, by the way, it was created by Woglom. Council has now officially notified QHS that they will be revising the agreement to prevent future secrecy and political favoritism. The Society will now have to obtain council's approval for everything they do. And, since they occupy a publicly-owned building, they will be required to actually open it to the public, something Roberts has been refusing. A town government should never have to spend its time, and (your) legal fees, overseeing a Historical Society, but Roberts has made it necessary here.
Council's demeanor at the November meeting was restrained, but even the Democratic members were angry. Several councilmen saved their personal comments for afterward: QHS should find a new president. It may be the only way to head off real trouble. Roberts has politicized what is supposed to be a non-political organization, banned the community from its own building, placed the people who trusted her in jeopardy of IRS investigations, and harmed the relationship between the Society and the borough. And this from a woman who hopes to run for council - again.