The Saratoga Sun -

Garden time

501(c)(3) status for garden postponed pending completion of USDA grant

 


The Saratoga Community Garden Board will continue operating as a branch of municipal government for the next year.

On January 24, the board held a 100-minute workshop with the mayor and town council after a month of strained relations between Saratoga’s town government and garden board members.

Dissolution of the garden board within months, originally suggested by council member Will Faust at a Dec. 20 town council meeting, was shelved for at least a year at the workshop. It is likely the board will be reformulated as a 501(c)(3) charity in one to two years however. Reorganizing the entity as a charity had been Faust’s aim in dissolving the board.

Faust had proposed a transition to 501(c)(3) status before spring planting, but the process will take around $1,000 and at least a year of paperwork, according to board members.

The longer transition period will give the board time to file tax documents and allow a two-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant awarded the board to be completed.

Feud and Confusion

In December, Faust accused board secretary Cindy Bloomquist of using funds from the roughly $20,000 USDA grant to enrich her business, Prancing Antelope Construction (PA). Faust never contacted Bloomquist or other board members before making those accusations, and Bloomquist was infuriated to learn of his allegations through media accounts she said.

Under close scrutiny, several of Faust’s claims about the alleged impropriety appeared ill informed, and much of the January workshop was an exercise in finger pointing over the source of those misconceptions.

Faust, mayor Ed Glode and council member Richard Raymer said board members had done a poor job of keeping the council apprised of expenditures at the garden. “I don’t feel like we’ve been in the loop,” Faust said. Raymer asked, “How are we supposed to know what you guys are talking about and doing when we aren’t at your meetings because we’re at a different meeting?”

The (Garden) Plot

Bloomquist and board treasurer Glee Johnson disputed Raymer, Faust and Glode’s references to poor communication. They said Bloomquist sat down with Glode in early summer specifically to discuss the use of PA for construction. Glode voiced no concerns over the use of PA at that time, but he never passed that information along to the council.

In addition to the conversation with the mayor, Johnson and Bloomquist said the use of PA was clearly detailed in invoices and quarterly reports released to the council and mayor last summer and fall.

“These invoices (to PA) were around last June. And the upset at this late of a date is very confusing to me, and upsetting,” Bloomquist said. She and Johnson said the board had followed proper procedure but was ignored by members of town government until Faust’s accusations became public.

Next Steps and Changes

Rather than rehashing events, some members of the garden board and council seemed intent on moving forward. New council member Steve Wilcoxson was not on the council for much of the dispute, but he cast himself as a deal broker, trying to find middle ground between the parties.

Board president Steve Deorio did not wade into the PA situation, but admitted in other ways, “We are shooting from the hip, quite a few times.” He called construction over the summer harried and at times disorganized, with non-board members using a town charge account to make minor purchases. Those purchases involved sums under $10.

The board agreed to allow only two, to-be-named, board-designated purchasing agents buy supplies with the town account in the future.

The board also agreed to submit a “build order” of materials to the town before construction starts again in spring.

Last summer, construction purchases were made piecemeal by different parties, leading to confused ledgers and difficult-to-manage receipts.

The board also said it would consider adding an additional alternate board member.

These changes were not voted on at the workshop, but will be formally adopted at the garden’s next meeting 5:30 Feb. 13 in town hall.

For the board as a whole, it may be expedient to move on. Bloomquist is still living through the effects of the charges made against her, however.

“I was asked at our library board meeting yesterday, they said, ‘You’re our treasurer–do we have to worry?’ I mean, that’s upsetting. It is.”

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