Nearly a month after submitting a letter to the Columbia Association board of directors requesting revisions to the transparency provisions for the Inner Arbor Trust Inc., a separate corporation set up by the board to manage the development of Symphony Woods Park, Delegate Liz Bobo says she still is waiting for answers.
"I can not overstate how concerned I am about this," said Bobo, who represents Columbia as a District 12 representative in the Maryland House of Delegates. "If they are going to have a separate entity, I believe it should be required to be done in a transparent manner just like the CA Board is required to do."
Bobo's letter comes on the heels of the Inner Arbor Trust's announcement that meetings of its board, which includes CA President Phil Nelson, CA Board member Gregg Schwind and former CA Board member Ed Coleman, will not be open to the public.
The 10-member CA Board voted to create Inner Arbor Trust Inc. on Feb. 14 to implement the Inner Arbor Plan, a bustling arts district in Symphony Woods Park. Part of the reason the entity, which is in the process of applying for tax-exempt, nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, was formed is to apply for grants and receives donations that CA cannot.
The board also authorized the future transfer of $1.6 million from CA to the Inner Arbor Trust. According to Inner Arbor President Michael McCall, $450,000 of the money already has been transferred to the entity.
In her letter to members of the board dated May 30, Bobo cited a note from the Maryland attorney general's office that states the entity's "foundational documents do not contain any requirements for transparency in openness and operation." In closing, Bobo requests the board amend the trust's bylaws and articles of incorporation to include transparency provisions similar to those governed by CA, a homeowner's association and 501(c)(4) organization, under Maryland law.
Bobo said she requested the attorney general's office review the corporation's documents in her capacity as a delegate and as a concerned resident.
"I don't think there is any room for not following the ethical principle of transparency," Bobo said. "Reasonable people can disagree about what to put in Symphony Woods, but I do believe we are in the realm of ethics."
Some board members argue that in order to achieve the entity's intended purpose of becoming a separate 501(c)(3) organization, the CA Board cannot dictate policy to the Inner Arbor Trust.
"We need to keep a separation," said CA Board Chairman Andy Stack. "We cannot dictate, but we can ask."
Stack said, despite the closed meetings, the CA Board expects to see regular updates of the Inner Arbor's activities.
Alex Hekimian, who was one of two CA Board members to vote against the trust on Feb. 14, said Bobo "makes a good point because the money comes from a mandatory annual charge that every property owner must pay; that adds the necessity for the Inner Arbor board's meeting material be available to the public," Hekimian said.
Although meetings of the board are not open, which Inner Arbor officials say is in line with practices of other nonprofits, updates on the entity's activities have been publicly announced. Beginning in May, the Inner Arbor Trust announced the addition of four new board members, which include Community Foundation of Howard County President Beverly White-Seals, who will serve as secretary, and the appointment of McCall as president.
On June 19, the group announced former CA Chief Financial Officer Rafia Siddiqui will serve as treasurer.
McCall, who runs a consulting firm called Strategic Leisure, said he will be compensated for his role, but that no amount has been set at this time.
"We know that (Del. Bobo's) actions and statements pertaining to the Inner Arbor Trust are made in good faith and with the best of intentions," McCall said in a statement.
McCall wrote that the Inner Arbor Trust is "an independent, arms length entity, which is not controlled by Columbia Association," and that the "separation is key for the Trust to be a not-for-profit organization eligible to receive tax deductible donations from foundations, endowments and individuals."
According to the bylaws, the Inner Arbor Trust will function under the same restrictions as a 501(c)(3) even before it receives status from the IRS, which may not come until 2014.
McCall said that the Inner Arbor Trust plans to set up community forums with question-and-answer sessions to keep the public up to date, and that a website will be developed.
In addition, the Inner Arbor Trust's bylaws and articles of incorporation can be made available to the public upon appointment, he said.
For Bobo, that isn't enough.
"Those sound like nice ideas, but it doesn't compensate for a lack of transparency, and it doesn't alleviate it either," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun