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Laurel Park supporters spar over nonprofit

Laurel Park Civic Association President Mark Morse explains proposed changes to the nonprofit to town residents. Laurel Park Civic Association President Mark Morse explains proposed changes to the nonprofit to town residents.

LAUREL PARK —Laurel Park residents who are questioning a proposal to change the legal makeup of a 60-year-old nonprofit that supports the "Town on the Mountain" debated the change on Tuesday night at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

The board of directors of the Laurel Park Civic Association Inc. has been working to dissolve itself and form a new organization with the same mission under a different section of IRS code. The Civic Association board voted on June 30 to dissolve the corporation — an action that must be approved by a vote of the association’s 183 members. The Civic Association would be replaced by the new Friends of Laurel Park.
Like the Civic Association, the Friends of Laurel Park would work to “preserve the physical, cultural, historical, environmental, recreational and social resources of our exceptional ‘Town on the Mountain,’” the bylaws say. It would host educational events, promote town history, work for walking and bicycle trails, landscaping and flowerbeds, parks and playgrounds.
“For all practical purposes it is the Laurel Park Civic Association with a different name,” said Mark Morse, president of the association. “It’s not a membership organization. It’s going to be operated much the same as a nonprofit. It’s going to have a board of directors, an annual meeting.”
Morse and the Civic Association board have been working for months on the plans to recast the organization. The association sponsors the Music at Jump Off Rock festival, raises money for historic markers, supports walking trails and park improvements and undertakes other projects to enhance the town’s quality of life.
Twenty-seven residents turned out to hear more about the proposal or ask questions, including Mayor Carey O’Cain and Town Councilman Paul Hansen.
Don McIntyre, a past president of the Civic Association, opposes the change.
“Don’t vote to destroy the Civic Association,” he said. “It’s been there for almost 60 years. It’s done wonderful things for this town. It’s not necessary to destroy this thing. You can have two organizations under one umbrella — a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4). There are things you’ve got to spend money on and you need it up front so you need some dues. So you run two organizations under one umbrella. You can have the same officers, the same board of directors, for both organizations. Let’s preserve the Civic Association. Why send it down the drain?”
McIntyre says that if the Civic Association needs a nonprofit to accept tax-deductible donations it should form one as a separate entity while keeping the organization.
Morse said it’s hard enough to recruit volunteers for one organization, let alone two.
“There’s only seven of us right now and I don’t know if anyone here wants to volunteer," he said. "We’d have two organizations with essentially the same amount of people who want to do the Jump Off Rock Music Festival, historical signs and do everything else. You and I both know it’s difficult to get people to volunteer. People would rather send a check and say ‘I’m done with it.’ The point is, there’s a limited number of people."
Residents questioned whether donors would know how the Friends of Laurel Park was spending money. They would, said Civic Association board member Mindy Collins. Board meetings would be open to the public and the Friends of Laurel Park would publicize its activities on a website and Facebook page.
“First of all, this town doesn’t belong to us,” Morse said. “It belongs to you” — the Laurel Park residents. Ultimately, improvements funded by a nonprofit organization — whether its Friends of Laurel Park or the Civic Association — is approved by the Laurel Park Town Council. “I think most people’s question is how do the people donating know what you’re doing with the funds. I think what we need to do is make it very clear to people.”
Two Civic Association members said membership gives residents more ownership.

Morse responded: “Personally, I don’t see a difference in giving $25 and calling myself a member or giving $25 and knowing I’ve done something for the community.”
Mayor Carey O’Cain supports the proposed change.
“Five of the last six presidents of the Civic Association have tried to do what you’re trying to do,” he told Morse. “I applaud what you have done.”
The 183 Civic Association members will receive a ballot in the mail to vote for or against the dissolution. Under the association bylaws, the nonprofit corporation must receive at least 25 valid votes. The dissolution would be approved by two-thirds of the votes cast or a majority of the total eligible voters, whichever is less. There are 183 eligible voters. Ballots will go out within a week. They must be returned by Aug. 31.
“I think it’ll get voted down,” McIntyre said.
If it does, he said, he would support forming a separate foundation to receive donations while preserving the Laurel Park Civic Association.
“We’ll open it up Sept. 1 to see what happens,” Morse said.
If Laurel Park Civic Association members authorize the dissolution, the Friends of Laurel Park will send out information to all town residents about the next steps and will solicit support for the new organization, Morse said.