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YMCA members: Y not following law in response to records request

JANESVILLE

An attorney with a group of concerned YMCA members said documents released by the Y on Thursday do not satisfy the group’s request for records, and they have not ruled out a lawsuit.

David Moore, a Janesville attorney who is a member of a group of five current and former Y members, used the term “wholly inadequate” to describe the financial and governance documents YMCA of Northern Rock County Board President Jeff Jensen emailed his group.

The Y had turned over IRS 990 tax filings, bylaws and other governance documents for the Janesville-based nonprofit corporation and its foundation. They were part of a larger records request Moore’s group sent the Y in a letter last week, threatening to bring a lawsuit against the Y if it failed to provide adequate disclosure of documents.

The Y in its response sent several emails with documents attached, but in a note, Jensen wrote the Y was withholding three years of board meeting minutes the concerned members had requested. The Y also did not turn over a full list of all current Y members, another record the group had asked for.

The group in its Jan. 4 letter cited state statutes supporting its request for specific Y documents and disclosed to the Y board that the group intends to reach out to Y members to call a special membership meeting to discuss “transparency” concerns the group says have caused a yearlong outcry among some Y members.

A core of 52 current and former Y members and former board members have signed on in their support of the five-person concerned members group, the group says.

The group Moore represents says it’s seeking more transparency from the Y board over matters of its financial reports and its governance in the wake of about two years of opaqueness the group says the Y has shown, including what the group calls the “wrongful dismissal” of several Y board members and CEO Tom Den Boer’s suspension of Y members after they questioned the Y on its governance or asked for documents.

The group in a series of letters to the Y over the last year has called the member suspensions “authoritarian” and “damaging” to the image of the Y as a community organization.

The group says it believes the Y’s one-time board president, Jason Engledow, unilaterally terminated at least three board members during 2017 and 2018 and did so without a discussion or vote by the board.

Moore on Thursday afternoon said he looked over records the Y provided, and he said they were “inadequate” because the Y has not provided full “financial statements” in addition to tax filings, and it did not provide three years of board meeting minutes that the group also requested.

Jensen said in an email the Y was denying access to all of its minutes to protect people who may have been discussed in meetings, but he did not cite any specific law that allows the Y to withhold such documents.

The group said last week it would give the Y until Tuesday, Jan. 15, to fulfill its request, and if the Y failed to do so, the group was prepared to file a lawsuit. Moore said the Y’s response Thursday did nothing to allay his group’s threat to sue.

He said it’s not clear from the Y’s emails whether it intends to give the group more records or if it believes it has satisfied the group’s request.

“They have yet to comply with the law with regard to disclosure,” Moore said. “What happens next is not up to me alone, but they have not complied with what the law requires.”

On Thursday afternoon, Jensen shared with The Gazette the emails and records he had given Moore’s group. The Gazette last week filed an open records request seeking the Y’s bylaws and its most recent IRS 990 filings.

The bylaws, which Jensen sent in an email to Moore’s group, have been unchanged since 2007, Jensen wrote.

Nowhere do the bylaws mention the ability of the Y’s board president to unilaterally remove board members.

In fact, the bylaws make it explicit that removal of any elected or appointed board member “may be removed by the vote of a majority of members of the board present at a properly constituted meeting of the board of directors.”

Jensen and Den Boer on Thursday did not respond to a Gazette inquiry about the apparent disparity between the bylaws and former board members’ claims they were removed without a board vote.

Paul Murphy, an ousted Y member who said he got his membership suspended after he asked for the Y’s bylaws, is one of the concerned members seeking more transparency.

He said what his group has gleaned from records released Thursday is the Y might not have been following its own rules of governance.

“They removed three board members from March of 2017 to July of 2018 in violation of the articles in their bylaws. They’ve basically stated through the bylaws, I guess, that they were not following the bylaws,” Murphy said. “Yet, they do allow the CEO to follow through with the termination of membership. They’re allowing the CEO to follow those rules, and that is some of the concern. The concern is the abuse of all of that.”

Clarification:

This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify David Moore's relationship to the group of five YMCA members who say they're concerned over transparency matters and governance at the Y.

Moore said he's providing advice and expertise to the group, but he says that at this time, he's not actively providing the group legal representation.


Agriculture
Fix or replace: Farmers weigh equipment purchases in era of low commodity prices

JANESVILLE

With harvest season in their tractors’ rearview mirrors, crop farmers are using the downtime of winter as preparation season.

Planning seed purchases. Calculating how much fertilizer they will need this spring. Considering—perhaps through gritted teeth—whether to pull the trigger on buying a major piece of equipment.

A new combine can retail for $420,000. A longstanding downturn in prices for corn, soybeans and milk has made it even tougher to commit such an enormous amount of money.

Some Janesville equipment dealers are more optimistic than others.

Leo Johnson, a co-owner of Johnson Tractor, called it a “surprisingly brisk” December for equipment sales. Generally, farmers wait to make equipment upgrades until they’re profitable, and there’s not much excess farm income because of low prices.

But strong corn and soybean yields in Rock County have helped farmers weather the financial storm, he said.

“Even though prices were somewhat depressed, the yields in this area were very good,” Johnson said. “Producers who were well capitalized made some money in 2018, and it reflected in our business at year-end when they’re making decisions to purchase equipment.”

He did say some farmers are making more repairs to extend the life of their old machinery. Farmers have high expectations because of how advanced machinery is now, and they want to see it last, he said.

When it comes time for an upgrade, he thinks most people who are accustomed to buying new equipment still will do so rather than buying used to save money.

At least one prospective Johnson Tractor customer is making repairs and switching from new to used.

Chris Gunn of O’Leary Gunn Farms south of Janesville said he repaired his old combine so he could run it two more years. He has squeezed 2,200 hours of life out of it, far more than the usual 1,200 to 1,500 hours he operates a machine before typically trading it in.

The combine he is considering trading for already has more than 500 hours of use. Compared to a new model, the used combine could save him more than $100,000.

“It’s really, really tough,” Gunn said. “We’ve always bought brand new, but now we’re looking at buying used just to save nickels and pennies.”

Up the road from Johnson Tractor, Mid State Equipment owner Chris Frodel said the sustained downturn has caught up with farmers and trickled down to her business.

She has seen more farmers bring in equipment for repairs rather than buy used machines. The company’s commercial and light industrial divisions have grown, offsetting some of the agricultural losses.

Like Johnson Tractor, Mid State Equipment had a solid December as farmers reviewed their year-end finances. But the long-term equipment sales outlook was still shaky, Frodel said.

“We need some consistent commodity prices. We need consistent dairy prices for those guys to catch up,” she said. “It’s just been a depressed market for too long. That’s what they need to start being comfortable spending again.”

Frodel said she does not expect a “huge uptick” in agricultural sales in 2019.

Johnson remains optimistic. Farmers don’t typically drop by in January to buy farm equipment, but the mild weather has made it less of a burden for them to visit the dealership on Highway 14, he said.

It’s unclear how far farmers can stretch the strong yields of 2018, but they have been helpful so far at Johnson Tractor.

“I really didn’t have any idea how much crop was really out there,” Johnson said. “Looking at what prices are, I wasn’t expecting a tremendous amount of business in December. I’m very pleasantly surprised.

“Maybe my expectations were too low.”


Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 11, 2019

Barbara Ann Deegan

Mary A. (née Terry) Grandle

Joe Lord

Pamela M. Ruhff


Anthony Wahl 

Janesville's Cooper Iverson tries to wrap a pass around the goalie during the first period of their game against Madison Memorial in Janesville on Thursday. The Janesville Bluebirds lost 6-2.


HONS 

FILE—This undated file photo provided by Barron County, Wis., Sheriff’s Department, shows Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15, 2018, after her parents were found fatally shot at their home in Barron, Wis. The Barron County Sheriff’s Department said on its Facebook page Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, that Closs who went missing in October after her parents were killed has now been located and that a suspect was taken into custody. (Courtesy of Barron County Sheriff’s Department via AP, File)


AP
Trump eyes disaster money to fund border wall

WASHINGTON

The Trump administration is considering using billions in unspent disaster relief funds earmarked for areas including hurricane-pounded Puerto Rico and Texas and more than a dozen other states to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall as he weighs signing a national emergency declaration to get it built without Congress.

The White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to comb through its budget, including $13.9 billion in emergency funds that Congress earmarked last year, to see what money could be diverted to the wall as part of a declaration. That’s according to a congressional aide and administration official familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

It is the latest sign that the administration is laying the groundwork for a possible emergency order as negotiations between Trump and congressional Democrats to reopen the partially shuttered government have ground to a halt. Trump is demanding billions for his wall that Democrats won’t give him. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are set to miss paychecks today.

Trump on Thursday gave his strongest public indication yet that he is leaning toward an emergency declaration as he traveled to the Texas border to continue to press his case for the wall.

Trump told reporters as he left the White House that he was still holding out hope for a deal but that if it “doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”

Todd Semonite, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, was traveling with Trump on Thursday. The Army Corps of Engineers directed questions to the Pentagon, which directed questions to Congress.

Nearly $14 billion in emergency disaster relief funds have been allocated but not yet obligated through contracts for a variety of projects in states including California, Florida and Texas and in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico that have been ravaged by recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, according to the aide familiar with the matter.

The money funds a variety of projects, mostly flood control to prevent future disasters.

A second official with knowledge of the proposal said it would fund construction of about 315 miles of border barrier. Right now, barriers blanket about one-third of the 1,954-mile border with Mexico.

Defense Department officials had already been combing data on more than $10 billion in military construction projects to determine how much of it would be available for emergency spending this year.

Officials have estimated that roughly one-quarter to one-third of the money, or $2.5 billion to $3 billion, could be available—less than the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking. The majority has also already been obligated—meaning that it has been spent or a contract has been signed and there would be penalties for cancellation.

Regardless of where the money is found, an emergency declaration would draw immediate legal challenge from Democrats, who have accused Trump of trying to manufacture a crisis at the southern border to justify his wall. Critics have said the move would be an unconstitutional abuse of emergency powers. Trump said Thursday that his lawyers have told him he has the “absolute right.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised immediate concerns over shifting funds that have already been approved by Congress for projects in states across the nation.

Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he has been hearing from lawmakers in recent days concerned that Army Corps projects in their states could be canceled or postponed.

”If they drag the money out of here,” Simpson said in an interview late Thursday, “a lot of members will have a problem with it.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the incoming chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview that rebuilding the disaster areas is “a way higher priority benefiting the American people than a wasteful wall.”

He said the Army Corps works on dams, levees and other projects across the nation and has an enormous backlog of unfunded needs. “It would be an incredible disservice to the American people and the economy” to divert the money to the border wall, he said.

And Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said in a statement that it would be “beyond appalling for the president to take money from places like Puerto Rico that have suffered enormous catastrophes, costing thousands of American citizens’ lives, in order to pay for Donald Trump’s foolish, offensive and hateful wall.”

”Siphoning funding from real disasters to pay for a crisis manufactured by the president is wholly unacceptable and the American people won’t fall for it,” she said.


Robert J. Scott