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Liberty trustees, beautification group chart new course

LIBERTY — Township trustees are not severing ties with the Liberty in Bloom group, but they are restructuring the relationship.

Trustees are not disbanding or getting rid of the volunteer organization, Trustee Devon Stanley said. They are just going to separate the board of trustees from the organization, which plants flowers in beds at entrances to the township.

“Liberty in Bloom is never going to stop functioning as a volunteer organization,” Stanley said. “We don’t want to take that away. We are just restructuring to comply with the law.”

The trustees will vote Monday on a motion to terminate the resolution made in 2013, which states that the township will sponsor the Liberty in Bloom community improvement project. That resolution also states that the board of trustees will solicit the support of resident volunteer labor, financial contributions and / or donations to be used in conjunction with township donations; and establishes a line item township fund to accept donations and appropriate funds for Liberty in Bloom.

“Basically, we are going to vote to terminate that resolution and they won’t be able to use the township to solicit funding,” said Stanley. “Any money in that line item will be forwarded to the group, they won’t lose any of their current funding.”

The trustees will then vote on a new resolution that will clearly state that Liberty in Bloom will have full permission to plant in the current beds with the exception of the beds by Interstate 80. The trustees are concerned for the safety of the organization and are working with the Ohio Department of Transportation to secure a permit to reconfigure that area.

NOT HAPPY

The Liberty in Bloom organization is not happy with this decision.

“The trustees do not want Liberty in Bloom to continue having a line item in the general fund and work collaboratively with our volunteer group. The township has never had a finding for collecting money from businesses and residents from the state auditors office. The fiscal officer never had a problem cashing these checks and putting the money in a line item for Liberty in Bloom for the exclusive use of Liberty in Bloom,” former trustee Jodi Stoyak wrote in an mail to the organization members.

“What a shame that this board of trustees will no longer work with us by allowing us to bring these funds into the township to beautify all of our welcome signs.”

Stanley has said that if the organization were to create a nonprofit corporation, then the township would donate money to it as well as potentially match outside donations if the funding is available.

“We aren’t interested in setting up a 501(c)(3), which was suggested by Trustee Stanley. That would require us to have a board and regular meetings and by-laws etc. Liberty in Bloom is a very basic community volunteer group whose sole purpose over the last 18 years was to make our township look better,” Stoyak wrote. “We are sorry that the township has chosen to follow this path. It was always a pleasure to work with all of you over the years.”

Stoyak has said two volunteers are willing to put a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization together but “they won’t be successful because they have no idea of the scope and volume of work with sending out letters to residents and businesses, bringing the money in, cashing checks and sending out thank you letters. Finally, most people that donated money to our organization were friends and supporters of mine over the years.”

OTHER GROUPS

Other beautification organizations in the area operate as a 501(c)(3) and have not had any issues with the setup as they continue to work with their local governments.

Darlene Vasbinder, a member of the Downtown Leavittsburg Improvement Association, said that organization has operated as a 501(c)(3) for 20 years with no issues.

“We do the bare minimum in Leavittsburg. We make sure the trash is picked up, lawns are mowed and we put up banners,” Vasbinder said. “We are just a simple group. We maybe have eight active members and we’re all older women.”

Youngstown CityScape started about 20 years ago much like Liberty in Bloom did — a group of volunteers came together to make Youngstown beautiful. The organization became a 501(c)(3) 16 years ago and still works with city council.

“It’s important to collaborate. City governments have less and less funds so partnerships are critical,” said Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape. Letson said the group did experience growing pains but noted CityScape and the city work as partners.

“People don’t realize that nonprofits are eligible for funding. Plus people sometimes feel more comfortable giving money to a nonprofit than to a government that already taxes them,” Letson said.

Other areas such as Howland, Girard, Austintown and Poland rely on their Rotary clubs or Junior Womens’ Leagues for beautification or allow other organizations such as Girl Scout Troops to come and volunteer their time.

RESPECT

In another email sent Feb. 6, Stoyak compiled a list of facts about this situation — further stating that “Liberty in Bloom volunteers will not subject themselves to lack of respect and demoralization from the board of trustees …We won’t be doing that any more due to the lack of support of this board of trustees,” wrote Stoyak.

When asked if the Liberty in Bloom volunteers will quit planting flowers if the trustees rescind the 2013 resolution, Stoyak commented that she is “only willing to go forward if the township steps up to help us with the aforementioned items.”

The official motion will be voted on at today’s trustees meeting.

bshiller<\@>tribtoday.com

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