Sun City Center – From required but unfiled federal reports to needed but unfilled work shifts, this community’s once-proud security patrol has become problem-plagued and in need of a fresh start.
This is the outlook now of its top leader, Karen Ryan, president of the patrol’s board of directors, after about five months at the helm. “We need a fresh start to recover this very valuable organization and to rebuild the patrol to comply with all IRS and state laws,” Ryan told The Observer this week, adding “I propose that a place to begin is a competent, professional, impartial outside audit. Never to anyone’s knowledge has an expert, impartial audit been conducted.”
Ryan, a former college professor who holds a doctorate in education and still is a member of the faculty at Syracuse University, said she has recommended the audit to the seven-member patrol board but has heard some resistance based in part on the potential cost. The fee for such an audit is estimated to be in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. But, “benefits of a comprehensive audit of the patrol’s financial picture and its functions outweigh the cost,” Ryan asserted.
Plus, the patrol is not without resources. Its own monthly financial report puts its total worth, including physical assets (principally vehicles), at more than $1.2 million. The May, 2011, balance sheet states it has investments — including CDs and Treasury Bills — exceeding $1 million and cash on hand in checking and savings accounts of more than $144,000.
The SCC Security Patrol is an almost entirely volunteer-based organization which dates back more than 30 years. Headquartered on the Central Campus, it shares a building with the SCC Community Association. It is managed, at least in theory, through a vertical hierarchy topped by the board of directors to which an organizational chart that includes Patrol Chief Mike Albanese and a group of deputy and assistant chiefs reports.
Supported by donations and endowments, the patrol historically has been a boon to the community, to local law enforcement as well to the series of community developers, patrolling SCC streets day and night, serving as eyes and ears for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and contributing to every developer’s marketing campaign as a much-touted community service. Over the years, it has been credited with saving hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars because of its volunteered security-oriented efforts.
The patrol also is categorized as a not-for-profit operation under Florida law and enjoys a tax exempt 501(c)3 status under the U.S. tax code, obligating it, among other things, for certain levels of responsibility, transparency and accountability.
It is this latter circumstance that produced a growing concern when it came to light earlier this year. The patrol engages car washers who clean its vehicles – currently five mostly late-model Hyundais – on a weekly basis. They are paid $8 per car per week, said Martha Finley, former patrol chief who retired in February and now is both an appointed deputy chief as well as a designated “ex-officio” board member. At that rate, the patrol pays the car cleaners about $40 per week or $2,080 annually. The monies are taken from patrol’s petty cash and that fund is reimbursed from general operating revenues to maintain its $500 balance, Finley said.
However, one of the patrol’s obligations under the federal rules governing its tax exempt operations is issue of the federal 1099 form presenting total earnings to each of the car washers receiving more than $600 annually so that those earnings can be reported accurately by the workers. For an apparently unknown number of years, the patrol has failed to issue any 1099s to any of the car washers, possibly jeopardizing its tax free status.
The matter surfaced in the March, 2011, board meeting minutes when Russ Merritt, a former board treasurer who subsequently resigned, was empowered to “explore the correct way to classify them under IRS rules” – as casual labor, contract workers or part-time employees – and determine the related tax code implications. Follow-up communications from Merritt to board members indicate concern that issuing the 1099s could “be a trigger for investigation” but suggesting that if nothing else is done, the forms should be completed for the 2011 tax year. Merritt’s message also noted that if the car cleaners were treated as employees, “a W2 would not trigger anything.”
The former treasurer, contacted by The Observer for this article, said this week he did not know if any 1099s had been issued to date. Minutes of the June, 2011, patrol board meeting state that members were advised one of their banks, SunTrust, could provide “a payroll processing program” that could handle taxes, 1099s and other details – presumably for the employed office staff and for the car washers – at a rate of $40 per month. The board agreed to pay for the program through the current year.
Filling the treasurer’s position also has caused heated debate within the patrol management during recent months. After Merritt’s resignation, Albanese, as patrol chief, began exploring other options, according to a series of written communications. In order to quickly get on staff a responsible individual to maintain accounting records and keep up the flow of required payments, he, at one point, tried to hire a Kings Point resident as an accounting clerk. This move was abandoned when he was advised his plan would violate existing patrol by-laws. Subsequently, Mike Brock, a SCC resident known for his accounting work with the SCC Men’s Club, was invited to join the patrol board as its treasurer. Brock did so, but soon resigned to become the patrol’s current paid accounting clerk, engaged at $14 per hour on a part-time basis, according to the minutes of an especially called board meeting on June 7. The paid accounting clerk position is a first for the patrol.
The patrol’s difficulty in finding or keeping necessary expertise on the management level signals even greater problems in maintaining the volunteer base to serve as dispatchers and patrol car drivers during day and night shifts. While some teams work three-hour shifts and others two-hour shifts, a full daily complement of dispatchers and drivers would number about 19. For a 30-day month, some 570 volunteers are needed to maintain a seven-day schedule now ending each midnight. No one within the patrol, contacted by The Observer, could – or would – state how many volunteers actually do work each month. Lynda Hannan, a patrol employee who helps maintain volunteer schedules, expressly declined to provide a number “without permission” from supervisors despite the organization’s obligations regarding open records.
Other signs, though, point to an eroding volunteer base. The board’s June 14 minutes note that three teams currently are without captains. At peak vacation times, patrol members of one team may be solicited several times within a single day to fill in on other teams. Due to unresolved internal problems, Team 4 simply did not patrol after 6 PM on April 4 and on May 4 only one driver from the team appeared for the 6 to 9 PM shift.
The Team 4 issues date back to April 4 when its newly trained captain, Mary Williams, arrived for her day-long shift at about 7 a.m.. According to a letter to Albanese from Williams’ attorney, Dale Brewster, she entered the office, easily identified by her badge and other credentials, intending to locate a substitute for the day due to illness she was experiencing. Rather than finding help, she was “rudely informed” by a dispatcher on duty that she, the day captain, could not enter the room, that the records she carried “ were snatched away” by the dispatcher, that she was denied “access to a telephone” and that when a supervisor was called to help settle the dispute that “supervisor took the side of the dispatcher and seemed generally annoyed at Ms. Williams for being ill.”
Brewster’s letter goes on to note “Ms. Williams is extremely disappointed in the manner in which she was treated especially considering this was a voluntary position, and she had invested many hours in training.” Brewster’s letter also constitutes Williams’ formal resignation as team captain and as a patrol member.
In days following the incident, Albanese signed short form letters to both Brewster and to Williams, accepting “regretfully” her resignation.
Ann Devine, the patrol dispatcher involved in the incident, was unwilling to discuss the matter when contacted by The Observer.
Today, more than two months after the encounter, Williams told The Observer that had she not been hospitalized with a migraine headache on the night of April 3, prior to her first day as captain of Team 4, she might have handled the situation differently. However, she remains adamant that she cannot and would not return to the patrol and that “my rights were violated.”
Her position is supported by Nan Burgett, a former team captain who trained Williams and who, in a late May memo , refers to “this pathetic situation” which led to a dispatcher being “extremely rude” to Williams who “was trying to do a good job.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Cleta Clark, a financial services manager who once had her company’s supervisory responsibility for the entire southeastern U.S. and who worked for and in the patrol office over a span of 10 years. Clark called the environment “brutal” and said she never would volunteer there again under the present circumstances.
Bill Dauber, a security patrol captain for eight years and board president for three years before resigning in December, 2010, took notice of the lack of night patrol on some days, commenting “that’s not fulfilling the mission of the patrol.”
When contacted by The Observer, Albanese, the current chief, refused to discuss any of the issues. He did state that if any problems exist, “we’ll resolve them.”
Retired Chief Martha Finley, on the other hand, was a little more willing to talk about complaints. Regarding the 1099s, she noted that the SCC Samaritans organization, whose cars are washed by the same workers at the same time, also have not been issuing 1099s. She said she had not known about their requirement until the matter was brought up earlier this year.
Regarding the damaging blow-up in the office on April 4, she acknowledged she was the “supervisor” called to come in and said she suggested Williams go home and rest. “I don’t know what else I could do,” she added.
As for taking the points raised by Williams and her subsequent resignation to the board, Finley indicated such conflicts and results are not considered board concerns nor are the written responses to them.
On the subject of the patrol’s financial reporting, Finley also was asked about one example of unexplained entries on the balance sheet – a credit card balance which remains exactly the same from month to month. The credit card, she said, is used for gasoline and for purchasing consumables that stock the patrol dispatch area. She, like Russ Merritt, had no explanation for the unchanging amount due on a credit card account in use.
And, when asked about her continued daily presence in the patrol offices despite her formal retirement – sometimes cited by former patrol members as an issue in itself that keeps otherwise willing volunteers from serving on the patrol – Finley responded that she could spend less time there if it would help the organization. She has been pursuing other interests in her second retirement, she said, including photography, Audubon and the Tennessee Club.
She also pointed out she serves as a dispatcher once a week and as a driver once a month. Asked how many hours she spends in the office on a weekly basis, she estimated a total of 10. “I’m really not pulling the strings,” she asserted.
Weighing in on the most recent patrol issues, Kurt Nolden, a board member as well as deputy chief, suggested that all of the volunteers are “honorable and honest people” and “we give what we have.” Whatever problems that exist, he added, are attributable to ignorance.
Ryan, however, was not quite as sanguine about the situation. She said she considers all of the issues identified as serious and demanding attention. “A problem is a problem that requires resolution, regardless of the cause,” she added, “and continued ignorance is not a really good excuse.”
A driver and a captain for several years before joining the board, the president emphasized “the patrol can function at its optimum level only if all of its parts are in good working order. We need the audit to pinpoint the problem areas, develop working solutions, possibly create policies that take them in account, adjust our by-laws to contemporary demands and ensure our legal compliance on all fronts. Then we can rebuild on that foundation.”
Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson