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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guess they were too busy....

Charlestown Land Trust caught in embarrassing gaffe
By Will Collette

One of the most enjoyable moments in last night's otherwise awful Town Council meeting was a discovery about the Charlestown Land Trust uncovered by the leaders of the Charlestown Conservation Commission.

They revealed the Rhode Island Secretary of State had notified the Trust that they would lose their corporate charter in Rhode Island for failing to file their annual report and charter renewal.

The letter from the Secretary of State is shown at the end of the article in its entirety.

This caught the crowd by surprise. Here we were in the middle of the debate over whether the Town would give the Land Trust $475,000 so the Trust could buy the YMCA's busted out camp ground, and a serious question came up about the Trust's status as a good corporate citizen.

The Trust attorney came forward to explain that it was true. The Charlestown Land Trust had failed to file its annual report and charter renewal last June as required by law. He had received the notice from the state, but apparently hadn't gotten around to dealing with it.

The state doesn't ask non-profit corporations for much. You need to file a two-page annual report and pay a small filing fee. Then you're good to go for a year.

But the state takes action when non-profits fail to file. Ask Council member Lisa DiBello. Her home-based "charity," A Ray of Hope, has never filed its annual report on time. The Secretary of State has actually gone all the way and revoked her Corporate Charter three times, resulting in fines and penalties to reinstate the corporation in good standing.

Indeed, DiBello did it again this past year. She also has just received the same pre-revocation warning letter from the Secretary of State as the Land Trust.

I've done corporate research for quite a few years and often run into instances where corporations fail to follow the rules about corporate filings. Because it so simple to file, not to mention routine as well as legally required, I take it as a sign of lack of diligence, lack of attention to detail when a corporation commits this sort of lapse. When a corporation does it repeatedly (as in the case of DiBello's "charity," it is a sign of poor management at best, and disdain for the law at worst). 

Last night, the Charlestown Land Trust got its way when the Town Council approved paying the Trust $475,000 of your tax money. The complex deal took some finagling but in the end, they pulled it off.

Given the way the Town Council majority was predisposed to vote yes, regardless of whatever testimony they heard, this gaffe had no effect on the outcome.

Clearly pulling off this legal larceny was more important to the Charlestown Land Trust than taking care of the fundamental requirements of maintaining their own corporate status.