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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

YMCA won't release data on spending

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The board chairman of the YMCA and Jewish Community Center of Greater Toledo said yesterday that the nonprofit organization will not disclose records of the credit-card spending and travel expenses of its top executives and managers.

The Blade sought a detailed review of receipts related to $437,215 of travel and transportation expenses and $180,173 of "conferences, conventions, and meetings" costs mentioned on the YMCA's 2007 IRS filing.

Board members delayed fulfilling the request for a week as they awaited an opinion from a lawyer on whether the Y was legally required to make the records public. The opinion is apparently now in.

"We've been advised that we don't have to produce those receipts," Chairman Paul Schlatter said yesterday in a brief phone interview with The Blade.

Mr. Schlatter, along with Justice "Judd" Johnson, Jr., a past Y board chairman, repeatedly told The Blade over the past two weeks that the YMCA would be "transparent" and would make financial records available.

The Y is closing its South Toledo branch on Aug. 29 for what its leaders have described as continued financial problems at the aging building, coupled with the sudden loss of at least $1.5 million in state child-care funds.

After learning of the executive compensation levels at the YMCA, The Blade requested the credit-card and travel receipts as part of an investigation into how the organization, which reported $4.8 million in government contracts in 2008 and $4.4 million in public contributions, is allocating its resources.

YMCA Chairman Paul Schlatter had pledged 'transparency,' but he said the Y does not have to show the records. YMCA Chairman Paul Schlatter had pledged 'transparency,' but he said the Y does not have to show the records.
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YMCA President Robert Alexander, 63, whose base salary of $270,357 makes him the highest-paid president/CEO of all YMCA systems in Ohio and the highest-paid social-service agency head in the Toledo area, explained last week why he would prefer to keep those receipts private.

"We are a private, not-for-profit organization," Mr. Alexander said. "We receive a lot of government funding and we report everything that we need to report to the federal government."

Although the Y's chief financial officer, Brian Keel, has spoken in general terms about the questioned expenses, the organization still refuses to share documentation of the spending.

This lack of financial transparency has irked some community residents and Y members who disagree with the Y's decision to close the South Toledo branch and hand over the building for free to CedarCreek Church.

"It makes it look like they have something to hide," Cooper Suter, a critic of the closure, said of the Y's decision to withhold the receipts. "If you're a not-for-profit, communitywide social service [organization], isn't there a higher level of transparency that you're, if not legally, at least ethically, bound to?"

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Toledo recently received a spike in telephone callers inquiring about the YMCA, said Greg Heldt, director of charity revenue.

Mr. Heldt said the Y is accredited and in good standing with the bureau. He said the Y's only fault, a minor one, is not including a link to its latest IRS Form 990 on its main Web site. He also said the business bureau does not opine on how an organization spends its money as long as standards are being met.

"We aren't making a judgment on how the money is being used, just that it is within the guidelines of usage," Mr. Heldt said.

Mr. Keel said last week that Y executives, "vice presidents and up," are issued YMCA credit cards for work-related expenses. There are also credit cards in each branch location that employees may only use for work.

Mr. Keel said employees have been using the credit cards responsibly, and that Mr. Alexander seldom uses his issued card.

"Robert probably used his credit card less than anybody," Mr. Keel said. "I wish we used our credit cards more for more purchases because when used appropriately, it's a great way to keep track of what's being spent."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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