PLANET FINDS OUT MORE ON BOYS CLUB-BELL SITUATION … DISSOLVED ALUM BOARD MEMBERS MET ON SUNDAY TO FIND ANSWERS … CLUB BOARD MAINTAINS SILENCE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, NOV. 22, 2013) — Despite the sealed lips of the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club executive and administrative staff, THE PLANET had learned more on the case of Peter Bell, executive director. Bell, as we reported, has been on paid leave since late October. The Club’s Board of Directors ordered Bell off the job, and it has failed to say why. The silence has left Bell and the Club’s reputation twisting in the gale.
As you read yesterday, our attempts to obtain official, on-record comments from the Club went nowhere, prompting one wag to say, “The MO of corporate America has infiltrated the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club in the way they are responding to the community. It’s sad.” John Donna didn’t call. Peter Bell didn’t call. For that matter, neither did Jim Mooney, Fred Fahey, or Red Plough.
Despite the Club’s attempts to seal the case off from the media and the public, however, THE PLANET has learned from a well-placed source the following:
* Members of the Club’s Alumni Board — which seems to be “the former Alumni Board,” since, as we noted earlier, the alumni directorship was suddenly dissolved — met on Sunday to discuss the Club’s roiled situation. Needless today, members of the alumni board represent a qualified set. They are people who care deeply about an institution so central to the communal well-being of the city.
* The purpose of the meeting, according to our source, “was to see if there was anything we could do” about the Bell situation, including finding out what’s occurring behind the cloak of darkness and the baffle of silence.
* The source, using words carefully, said, “We were told there was nothing that the Executive Board wanted to share with us at this time.” The source would did say who conveyed that stonewalling message to the alums.
* The alum told THE PLANET that “We did learn that Peter Bell was being paid six figures in his position and that any severance package he might get would reflect that.” That’s not chump change. That’s Club change.
One Club source close to the Board of Directors, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says that Bell and the executive board have reached a standoff over “philosophical issues” and that each side is lawyering up. “They’re ‘chicken’ right now. First one to swerve loses.” Ah yes, the old “philosophical issues” excuse. What, did the board like Hegel and Bell favored Kierkegaard?
The source wouldn’t predict the outcome but conceded the possibility of it “getting nasty.” Judging by the tone, we didn’t pick up the chance of an amicable parting.
These enigmatic comments do little to clear up the mystery of why the board took the dramatic action of placing Bell on paid, administrative leave. A Club staffer offered what she called “a guess:” a power struggle manifested in split loyalties. One group has loyalties to the board, citing Bell’s “haughty attitude.” Those loyal to Bell claim the board is trying to usurp Bell’s authorities and “embarrass him.” It can’t be good for morale. Front office melodrama cannot help but trickle down to the rank and file, the day-to-day operations, and, eventually, the children and families that use the Club’s services.
The situation causes one to wonder how long the Club will keep Bell in that position and how long Bell will remain silent while his reputation is shredded by the board’s silence? As long as the “standoff” remains in place, a source said, Bell will be receiving his hefty salary without equal “productivity contributions.” That’s admin-speak for, “As long as he gets his dough and he’s not doing anything in return, the Club’s getting screwed.”
That question of paid leave on a six-figure salary has or will come into play, most likely, for all those who have donated time, talent, and treasure to the organization. They, understandably, are concerned.
Is a severance package in the works? It would seem so, since our source on the alumni board mentioned it without being asked or prompted. If that is happening and the two sides are negotiating a financial deal, how will that show up on the Club’s books? Will it have to be reported to the IRS? Do the Club’s shareholders — which is to say, everyone in the community — have a right to know if the board, for whatever reason, is trying to buy Bell off and out? If so, why? How will that impact the Club’s reputation in the community? Will that cause potential donors to back off and send their money elsewhere? Will it trigger more legal action? These are the questions that need to be asked. The Board of Directors and Bell must provide answers.
If you’ve ever wondered what a can of worms looks like, take a walk on Melville Street these days.
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The Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club is one of 4,000 such associations located throughout the country. In 2012, the national governing body reported gross receipts of $255,175,720, $145,177,454 of which came from donations. It paid out $40,480,693 to its employees. The Club lists itself as a Sec. 501(c)(3) corporation. Yes, the dreaded non-profit … or is it “not for profit?” Pittsfield and its taxpayers are most familiar with “non-profits.”
On IRS Form 990, question 13 asks if the national organization has “a written whistleblower policy.” The answer is “yes.” Question 15 asks if, in “determining compensation” for the organization’s CEO or executive director, did the organization “include a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision.” Again, the Club answers “yes.”
National president and CEO James Clark made $786,418 in 2012. Ten other Club execs make six-figure salaries averaging north of $250,000 a year. As a 501(c), the Club pays no taxes.
It takes no great leap of faith or agnostics to apply this information to the local situation on Melville Street. Here we have a tax-exempt organization, raising substantial amounts of money, paying its CEO six figures, according to our source on the former Alumni Board. Moreover, like the self-proclaimed mission of the national parent, the Pittsfield Club’s business involves the care and fostering of children.
Yes, it’s for “The Children” — this time it truly is — who are still as naive, trusting, and lacking good judgment as ever and remain potential targets for any adult who might have intentions that run counter to their welfare and well-being. THE PLANET wonders if the local club has a “written whistleblower policy.” Did the Club determination of Bell’s compensation include ”include a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision?” Suddenly, this seems like relevant information. Who will answer, as Ed Aimes once asked in a song.
We ask these questions for no other reason than the Club Board’s silence. If there is some compelling, overriding reason why the Club can’t share the information, the board should at least provide that. The public, after all, sends the Club its hard-earned dollars with the assumption that there is fiduciary watch of the money. Bottom line: Can the Club be trusted any longer?
Without knowing specifically what’s up or what’s wrong at the Club, how can citizens of Berkshire County entrust their children to the organization? How can they continue to lend its support? THE PLANET writes this as a proud alum of the Club, having enjoyed its services for years: caroms and pool in the game room, 10-cent movies on those raucous Friday nights (“The Iron Claw” serial), swimming, basketball, woodworking, crafts, and so many activities that provided so much fun. No one has to lecture us of the Club’s local value. In fact, we use that value as a lever to attempt to pry information from those who know.
Mr. Donna and Mr. Bell, you now how to reach us.
THE PLANET asks not for ourselves but for the citizens of Berkshire County, the parents of children, Club alumni, Club employees, those who have donated to the Club, Club members, and anyone else that might be affected by the situation.
The Boys and Girls Club story is important local news because of the central spot the organization plays in the cultural, social, and moral life of the city. THE PLANET provides this obvious fact to refute the inevitable backlash of how dare we try to find out what’s going on here, especially since The Boring Broadsheet is “reluctant” to probe.
How important is the Club? From its website:
- Approximately 5,000 boys and girls are members of the club this year.
- Each day, approximately 1,200 to 1,400 members come into the club to participate in programs, play sports or simply hang out.
- When you include parents and siblings who watch practices and games, or pick up their children, 3,000 to 4,000 individuals pass through our doors every day.
- Each year, 30,000 to 40,000 individuals come to the Boys’ and Girls’ Club to watch high school games, enjoy public skating, or attend special events.
- At Camp Russell, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club’s summer home on Richmond Pond, 350 youth attend camp during the season, with 1,600to 1,800 different children making up our summer enrollment.
The only financial information on the local Club’s website we could find is a link asking for donations. There’s no information that we could find that deals with the club’s budgets, salaries, and the like. As long as the official silence is maintained, this material becomes an important piece of the Peter Bell puzzle. Who controls the books? Are they available for public inspection?
Based on the information the Club has released, no one can assign fault or blame, innocence or blamelessness here. That does a disservice to all.
“There are some qualities — some incorporate things, / That have a double life, which thus is made / A type of that twin entity which springs / From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.” — Edgar Poe, “Silence.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.