Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

April 10, 2011

Kentucky Rep. seat funds not used for seats

HORSE CAVE — Money solicited through donations for the purchase of new seats at Kentucky Repertory Theatre and money contributed to the theater’s endowment fund was used for other expenditures, but the question is was it done illicitly or  just to keep the doors open?

Prior to a press conference on Monday, which was scheduled to announce the theater’s upcoming season of productions on Monday, Christopher Carter Sanderson, executive director, said the money set aside for the theater seat project had been spent on other things.

A total of $18,000 was generated for the new seat project. Patrons were asked to make a donation toward the purchase of the new seats and in return one or more of the seats, depending on the donation amount, would be named in memory of a loved one.

“That money, when I took office, there was $4,000 in the bank account, of which a $3,000 check had been written against,” Sanderson said. “There was $200 in the savings account and under a couple of thousand dollars left in the endowment account. So the $18,000 that was earmarked and was specifically donated to put the new seats in here was clearly misappropriated and, to the best of my knowledge the people who gave the money for the seats to memorialize their dead were not informed.”

Sanderson was named executive director of Kentucky Rep on March 1.

Sandra Wilson, a member of the theater’s board of directors, who was present when the allegations were made, referred all questions to Temple Dickinson, chairman of the board. Dickinson could not be reached for comment for this story.

Lyn Taylor Long, vice chairman of the theater’s board of directors, said on Thursday the board is investigating how the funds were spent.

She also said she has not had an opportunity to meet with Dickinson, who has been out of town.

“We will make sure that any patron or anyone who has provided money to that fund is made whole,” Long said. “We don’t know ... if anything has been truly misappropriated. We need to do some investigating and that’s what we are doing now. We are looking into it and we just want everyone to be assured that we will be looking into it.”

By Friday Sanderson appeared to be backing down from initial stance.

On Friday, the Glasgow Daily Times received a copy of an e-mail that Sanderson sent to a board member saying that possibly the word “misappropriated” was not the proper term.

Robert Brock, who served as artistic director at the theater prior to Sanderson’s arrival, said money in the seat and endowment funds were used to cover other finances and the theater’s board of directors knew. Brock left the theater in March. His is now teaching at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia.

“We were in dire straits, more so than what was known,” he said. “The theater was in danger of closing a number of times and so board members knew at some time we were either going to close or we’ve got to pull some of that money out.”

He continued it wasn’t as if “the money was gone forever” and that once the theater was back on stable ground the new seats would have been purchased.

“We didn’t have anywhere near enough money to buy the seats,” Brock said. “We barely had a third [of the cost].”

The theater operates on an annual budget, but it is the executive director who determines how monies should be spent, Long said.

 “We give the budget to the executive director and he does what needs to be done as far as expenses and planning,” she said. “We look at [the budget] and we approve it, or we don’t approve it, or we hold it over if we have questions.”

The theater started raising money for the seats in 2007, but when the economic crisis hit, people stopped making donations. It was going to cost close to $45,000 to purchase and install the seats, Brock said.

“We had a grant lined up that would have covered it all, but that fell through,” Brock said.

Brock said he and development director Mary Margaret Villines were constantly working to acquire grant funding for the theater.

Whether the money solicited for the seat fund was placed in a separate account or lumped together with other fundraising dollars is not known.

“We’re investigating that,” Long said. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to make anybody whole. We don’t know that everything wasn’t the way it was exactly supposed to be.”

Donors can receive a refund, if they no longer wish to support the seat project, Sanderson said. “The refunded money so far has been replaced by a kind supporter of the theater.”

 The goal is to replace the seats at some point, Long said.

She also confirmed that some of the board members knew the theater’s seats had been removed and replaced with director’s chairs.

“I believe that I spoke with Ms. [Sandra] Wilson and she was aware of it,” Long said. “I believe she told me she was aware of it.”

The endowment fund contained $77,000, of that amount $55,000 was contributed by Sally Bingham, and $22,000 from Dr. Jerry Gibbs, with the remainder coming from random donations during the 2009-10 fiscal year, Brock said.

“You cannot take money out of an endowment. Hilliard and Lyons maintained it. There was nothing we could do. You can’t touch it,” Brock said. “The only way [to use the money for other than it’s original intent] is if the original donor releases it to you. So we approached Sally Bingham. The papers were drawn up and she signed them and then turned the money over to us.”

 Gibbs did the same thing, Brock said.

“They knew this was to keep the theater going. Everything was above board. The board was involved in all of it,” he said.

Long confirmed money from the theater’s endowment fund was withdrawn, but only with the donors’ permission.

“They were transferred from the endowment fund based on permission from that donor. ... Nothing was taken from the endowment fund without permission from that donor,” she said, adding any additional funds left in the endowment fund will remain there.”

In May 2010, the theater hit a really tough spot, Brock said.

“It was hard to see how we were going to make it through,” he said. “We held paychecks for five weeks because we couldn’t make payroll, just to give you an idea of how desperate things have been.”

At that time the theater had a staff of three. The rest of the theater’s employees had been laid off, he said.

“I don’t know where it’s coming from to tell you the truth,” he said. “If it’s coming from [Sanderson], he’s so new, I really don’t know what he would know. I don’t understand what he’s trying to do by saying those things.”

Brock said he was not sure why it has been alleged seat fund money and endowment money was used improperly.

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