Selectmen deny responsibility for canceling Homecoming

Although Wakefield 350 has withdrawn its request to use the Common for the annual “Homecoming Festival” in September, issues related to the organization surfaced at the July 9 selectmen’s meeting, as members of the board took exception to being blamed by Wakefield 350 for causing the cancellation of this year’s Homecoming Festival.

In an email sent to the Item on July 6, Wakefield 350 President Nancy Bertrand indicated that the group had withdrawn its request due to the selectmen’s delay in approving the event. The initial request was on the board’s May 30 meeting agenda, but was tabled that night and at successive meetings as board members awaited more information and raised questions related to the organization’s legal status as a tax-exempt nonprofit public charity.

The board also last night discussed a letter from Town Counsel Thomas Mullen addressing the board’s request that he look into Wakefield 350’s legal standing as a charitable organization after Selectman Phyllis Hull raised questions at the board’s June 25 meeting.

At that meeting, Hull told the board that she had been informed by the Public Charities Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office that, with the exception of 2003, Wakefield 350 had failed to file legally required annual reports which must include a copy of the organization’s tax return. Hull said at that June 25 meeting that, according to the Attorney General’s office, Wakefield 350 was not in good standing with that office and therefore should not be raising funds as a charity.

Mullen’s letter to the board, dated July 6, 2007, states that Wakefield 350 “has made some required filings and has failed to make others.” Mullen’s letter indicates that he had spoken with Attorney Joseph Bertrand, a director of Wakefield 350. “I understand that the organization is in the process of curing existing deficiencies,” Mullen writes.

Mullen concludes, however, that none of the issues “would present a legal impediment to the conduct of the ‘Homecoming’ celebration in the same fashion in which it has been managed in the past.”

As a result of his investigation, Mullen’s letter indicates that he had obtained from the Secretary of State’s office copies of Wakefield 350’s Annual Reports from 1995 through 2006. “It appears, therefore,” Mullen states, “that Wakefield 350, Inc. is in good standing with the office of the Secretary of State.”

However, Mullen’s letter confirms that, with the exception of 2003, Wakefield 350 has failed every year to file the required Form PC with the Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s office. “Form PC is supposed to be filed annually by every public charity in Massachusetts,” Mullen writes.

Mullen’s letter states that he was informed that Bertrand is in the process of filing the forms for 2004, 2005 and 2006. Mullen adds that under state law, however, Wakefield 350 still must file form PC for every year from its incorporation in 1991 to 2002.

Mullen maintains that Wakefield 350’s failure to be up to date on these filings would not prohibit the corporation from doing business in Massachusetts unless the Attorney General chose to take action against the charity, which Mullen notes has not happened in this instance.

Mullen further indicates that Wakefield 350 is exempt from needing a certificate of registration from the Division of Public Charities of the Attorney General’s office because, according to information supplied by Bertrand, the corporation does not solicit or receive more than $5,000 in contributions per year. If in fact the only funds raised at the Homecoming event came from vendors paying for the right to operate stalls, Mullen maintains that such fundraising “does not constitute the ‘solicitation’ of ‘contributions’” as defined in the law.

However, contrary to previous representations that it is a registered 501(3c) corporation, Mullen’s letter notes that Wakefield 350 is not listed by the IRS as a tax exempt organization. The corporation may have had such status at one time, Mullen states, but “that status apparently lapsed.” That can happen, according to Mullen’s letter, if an organization “fails to make filings following five years of operation to confirm the initial representations” made in order to obtain tax exempt status.

Mullen asserts that Wakefield 350’s lapse of tax-exempt status would not prevent it from running the Homecoming event, because no one makes contributions to the event expecting to deduct it from his taxable income.

Mullen’s letter concludes that none of the issues associated with Wakefield 350’s lapsed tax-exempt status or its failure to make legally required filings would have prevented it from running this year’s Homecoming event. But since the request has been withdrawn, Mullen describes these issues as “moot.”

Selectman Phyllis Hull objected to Nancy Bertrand’s suggestion that the selectmen’s delay in approval was responsible for the cancellation of this year’s Homecoming event. Hull noted that members of the board of selectmen in past years have also tried unsuccessfully to get certain information from Wakefield 350.

Hull maintained that if past boards had followed up and if Wakefield 350 had been more forthcoming, “we would not have reached this series of unfortunate events. All of this could have been avoided if there had been more communications between the board of selectmen and Wakefield 350. Mr. and Mrs. Bertrand did not deem it necessary to come before this board.”

Selectman John Carney also took exception to being blamed for canceling this year’s Homecoming event.

“It was all unnecessary,” Carney said of the recent controversy. “We had asked a simple question, and for whatever reason this organization did not want to deal with our policy. They obviously didn’t want to deal with state regulations or the IRS regulations as well.”

[This story originally appeared in the July 9, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item]


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