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Johnson City mayor apologizes for failure to clarify makeup of Animal Control Board fundraising committee

June 10th, 2013 11:20 am by Gary B. Gray

Johnson City mayor apologizes for failure to clarify makeup of Animal Control Board fundraising committee


Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin publicly apologized to the Johnson City Press at the start of Thursday’s City Commission meeting for not clarifying who was on the Animal Control Board fundraising committee formed to help find donors to raise money for the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter. 


At Tuesday’s board meeting, City and County Commissioner and board member David Tomita asked Van Brocklin if a committee had been formed, and Van Brocklin acknowledged that fact. Tomita then asked Van Brocklin for the names of committee members, to which Van Brocklin replied: “I’d be happy to tell you later.” 


An article published Wednesday related that fact and that there had been no new announcements from North Carolina-based Dickerson, Bakker and Associates — the company hired to head a capital campaign to raise money for the new shelter — regarding any major donors and/or amounts that had been identified to help fund the shelter’s estimated $1.2 million “footprint.” 


On Thursday, prior to a meeting regarding the possible reinstatement of the HEROES Grant program for Johnson City Schools, Van Brocklin approached a Press reporter with a one-page list of positive talking points he felt were omitted from the board meeting. It included a complete list of fundraising committee members, and the name of the campaign itself: “CAUSE FOR PAWS.”


That was the first time the name had been made public.


The list of committee members is as follows: Art Powers, former Press publisher; Valda Jones, widow of former Press owner Tim Jones; Lucinda Grandy, County Commissioner Joe Grandy’s wife; Guy Wilson, local businessman; Gerald Thomas, Thomas Construction principal owner; Van Brocklin; Lynda Wexler; Cindy Bolton; Heidi Duhlebohn; and Jim Reel.


“The fundraising effort for the new animal shelter has gone through some stops and starts, and that’s been a frustration to everyone,” Van Brocklin said Friday. “Getting the consultants on board has focused the effort and they’ve been great at helping us develop an organized approach.”


As has been reported a number of times, the board’s early approach to the campaign involves conversations leading to commitments from major donors, and what Van Brocklin dubbed a “very productive meeting” was held June 4 with an individual he feels will be an anchor donor.


“The committee members are all committed to financial support of the project and each has individuals whom they feel they can go to who will lend financial support, as well,” he added. “I anticipate that a concerted effort to court those donors will begin following next weeks meeting of the fundraising committee.


“I attend a lot of meetings, and I can tell you that it is rare that you see a group that immediately gels with one another and gets down to the task at hand like this group did. We’ve got folks who have contacts in the media, we’ve got members who have been heavily involved in other campaigns, we’ve got more than one member who has planned and held fundraising events, we’ve got members who have contributed to other campaigns in the five and six-figure range.”


At the board’s Tuesday meeting, architect Thomas Weems flatly said “you just don’t have the money to do this.” Weems also told board members “there’s been almost no interaction between me and the board to this point. I don’t know what your budget is. I only know what I’ve been reading in the paper.” 


City Manager Pete Peterson’s immediate reply was that Weems should not believe everything he reads in the paper. 


Board members also learned that they would have to continue to pull money from its building fund to pay property taxes on the 6.6-acre parcel on which the new shelter will be built. They must do so because there is no activity on the property to which they can attribute a nonprofit agency — which the animal shelter is.  


That fund currently sits at $128,000, the bulk of which came in June 2012 when Washington County cut the board a $100,000 check to help with construction. 


It should be noted that county commissioners approved a revised resolution on April 26, 2012, which released the $100,000 and held in escrow an additional $150,000 that would be given to the board when $1 million in private funds was raised. The resolution states that if these funds are not used for construction within 24 months of the April resolution, the appropriation will expire and all monies will be returned to the county.


That means 11 months remain on that commitment.


The county also committed $100,000 for asphalt and paving services, but this money only will be released when a construction contract is executed.


Johnson City already contributed $350,000, which went toward the purchase of the new parcel.


Van Brocklin said the fundraising group hopes to raise enough to build the shelter to the design previously shown the public. However, board members have recognized the possibility that the cost of the higher level of aesthetics might make them unattainable. That is why they asked the architect to meet and discuss what was possible to accomplish with the amount the feasibility study indicated we could raise. 


“Ultimately, what is built will be nice looking,” he said. “But we are all focused upon the primary goal — a shelter that is large enough to house animals longer and to provide them more comfortable quarters.”


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