SHIRLEY — Having passed a motion at their previous meeting to designate the Shirley Charitable Foundation as the go-to organization for Winslow Trust Fund grants, selectmen summarily referred a request that came before them ona recent Monday night to the SCF.
Council on Aging Director John Oelfke came to the recent meeting to ask for an $800 Winslow grant to buy 25 (or more) CO detectors for needy seniors’ homes. “Either my outreach worker or I will verify that the seniors…are indeed in need,” Oelfke said in a letter to the board.
Many of the seniors he’s concerned about live in trailers with propane gas heating that are in poor shape, with old furnaces that could leak fumes, Oelfke further explained in the letter.
“We would like to be able to distribute (the CO detectors) in the fall before heating season begins.”
But as it turned out, discussion centered on the application process.
“This board has been pretty adamant about this procedure,” Chairman David Swain said.
“So even though we work for the town, we can’t ask you directly?” Oelfke queried.
The selectmen confirmed that was the case.
But Kendra Dumont said they were all for the cause. “We support the request,” she said.
Selectmen previously granted another bid for Winslow Trust Fund money, agreeing to transfer up to $5,000 to continue a grass-roots outreach program providing food and fuel to needy Shirley citizens of all ages. The grant will be administered by the SCF.
Established in the 1950s by the late Grace Winslow to assist needy seniors living in a nursing or rest home in town, the trust fund had built a substantial balance over the years but could not be accessed because there was no such facility in Shirley.
Looking to re-purpose the trust, the selectmen asked Treasurer Kevin Johnston to look into it. After some time and one rejection, Johnston succeeded. The take-away was a ruling from the Attorney General that freed up the trust for other charitable uses, under certain conditions and with oversight.
But the selectmen, leery of becoming grant administrators, asked the SCF to handle it for them, including paperwork.
Well established as a nonprofit, SCF has experience and expertise the selectmen were looking for and already acts as an umbrella organization for other town-based charities, with the necessary credentials to take on fiduciary responsibility for them.
But Oelfke said the process was at issue, in his view. “Why should we not come to the town for this?” he asked.
“This board can’t be tied down with … each individual request,” Swain responded. “The SCF has been authorized and has volunteered to (do it) for us,” he said, citing annual tax filing, as one of the “bookkeeping” chores SCF will be responsible for.
“There is no bookkeeping,” in this instance, Oelfke said.
But Kevin Johnston, speaking as SCF administrator, presented a more global view.
“The organization has offered administrative and filing services to the town,” he said. Citing the AG’s ruling, he said authority had been granted to give Winslow Trust Fund money to the Friendship Fund or other “identified charities” in town and that the SCF would do the paperwork and keep track of the funds.
“That said, we have a longstanding relationship with the Council on Aging and the Friends of the COA,” he said, for which SCF has acted in a “pass-through” capacity for donations and grants.
“Rather than create a “redundancy,” the Winslow setup only makes sense, Johnston continued.
In the end, the parties tacitly agreed to disagree, the selectmen didn’t budge and Oelfke bowed out.
But Johnston sought closure. Turning to Oelfke, Johnston asked. “Does that change your thinking?
“No,” Oelfke responded, but he indicated he would not argue further.
“That’s unfortunate,” Johnston commented, and the discussion ended there.
Contacted for comment next morning, Oelfke — in the midst of an event at the Senior center — declined to discuss his view of the “vetting” process he had objected to earlier. In practical terms, he may not have changed his mind, but the issue has been settled.