Questions have come up regarding SLF finances

Questions have come up regarding SLF finances

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The Issue: SLF has refused to respond to requests from the city for copies of financial records.

Our View: It is up to the membership to hold SLF accountable.

It’s been taking place quietly. During Carlinville City Council meetings and Finance Committee meetings, over the last year, at least three requests by council/committee members have been made to Councilman/Shop Local First (SLF) President Beth Toon for copies of the business organization’s financial records.

The city of Carlinville was one of the initial investors in SLF and would like to see how the organization’s finances are being handled. All of the requests have been either ignored or rejected. Most recently, during the July 10 Finance Committee meeting, committee members were told a request would have to be made to the SLF board. What’s odd is, following previous requests for financial documents, Toon, supported by Alderman Kim Heigert, indicated that SLF is so small there really isn’t much money for which to account. An accounting of the finances of a group like SLF really shouldn’t be contingent on the amount of money involved. It’s our position that when one is dealing with money that isn’t one’s own, such as donated funds or membership fees, the question of the amount that should be accounted for is “all of it.”

A lot of businesses (66 at our last count) have invested in SLF and it isn’t unusual for a member/investor to want to know how their money is being handled. Unlike a governing body, such as a city council or school board, SLF isn’t funded by taxpayer dollars and doesn’t fall under the legal purpose of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Just because a business organization like SLF doesn’t have to answer to the public or the media, doesn’t mean they don’t have to be accountable. It is their membership that must hold them accountable. When a member, such as the city of Carlinville, makes such a request, unless the organization has something to hide, the request should be answered.

We’re unsure why Carlinville has two business organizations. There’s the Chamber of Commerce and there’s SLF. It seems odd that Carlinville businesses should feel the need to pay dues to two organizations in order for their business to be promoted. Carlinville isn’t that big. One well-managed and motivated business organization should be enough. It seems logical that, if the two groups were to pool resources and work together toward a common goal, the whole community would benefit. Perhaps, then, there would be no need to keep financial records a secret from members that provide funding — a practice that, frankly, draws suspicion.

Then there’s Carlinville Winning Communities. This group doesn’t collect dues, but they seem to get more done than the other two put together. Carlinville’s square is as beautiful as it is because of Carlinville Winning Communities. Carlinville, once again, has a Independence Day celebration thanks to Carlinville Winning Communities. In fact, when it comes to the sort of jobs that require actual sweat equity, Winning Communities seems to be the group that steps up to get the job done. They do so without membership fees or tax dollars. They take donations and raise their own money, then follow it all up with a lot of hard work.

This year, proceeds from SLF’s Last Days of Summer event will go to the Carlinville Fire District. While we fully support the fire district, it’s important to note that it is a taxing body and is funded through property taxes collected throughout the fire district, which extends well beyond the city limits of Carlinville. To our knowledge, the fire district is fully funded and has made no requests for donations. We wonder why funds raised by a Carlinville-based endeavor would go toward a taxpayer funded entity that serves a broad area outside of Carlinville. The Carlinville residents putting money into the SLF fundraising effort would then be paying the fire district twice.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if funds raised by SLF stay in Carlinville by supporting Winning Communities? That way, Winning Communities could continue their efforts to keep Carlinville great without having to ask for donations, especially from area businesses who are already paying dues to two business organizations, one of which doesn’t want to disclose financial information.

We would like to encourage SLF members to attend the organization’s next meeting at 8 a.m., Wednesday, July 19, and find out why the city of Carlinville’s request for financial records was not met. SLF doesn’t have to answer to the public. It doesn’t have to respond to FOIA. It is up to the membership to keep the organization accountable.