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Sharpsburg, Legion fight over parade fund

November 02, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

SHARPSBURG - The Sharpsburg Town Council plans to take legal action against American Legion Antietam Post 236 in a dispute over how $2,400 in advertising proceeds raised from the town's annual Memorial Day parade should be spent.

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The money was supposed to be used for entertainment at next year's parade, which is sponsored by the town, the Legion and Antietam National Battlefield.

But Legion officials decided to keep the funds to pay the bills of the financially troubled private club, said Donna DeLauney, treasurer of the parade committee.

"The funds were in their name but the funds there weren't their funds," said the Rev. Richard Hembrock, a former post 236 member who served as the chairman of the parade committee.

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"Literally, no funds came from the Legion," Hembrock said. "They didn't have it to give."

Town Council members voted Monday evening to collect the money through Town Attorney Charles Wagaman, and then fund a new account for the parade committee.

It's important for the parade committee to continue working despite the dispute, said Councilwoman Patricia Hammond.

Legion officials have said they have a legal right to money in an account under the organization's name.

"Morally, I don't think the money belongs to the (Legion post), but legally it is (ours)," Legion Commander Tom Witmer said in an October interview.

The Legion held a meeting later in October to vote on whether or not to return the money to the parade committee, but lack of a quorum forced them to table the issue, Witmer said Tuesday.

He said the Legion's state judge advocate will now handle the dispute.

"I want to give (the money) to the town and (other Legion members) are fighting me on this," Witmer said. "It's not what you need - It's what morally belongs to you."

Witmer said the dispute has caused him to consider resigning as commander of Post 236. Witmer said that the Internal Revenue Service ordered the Legion to freeze the account because it was held by non-Legion members.

Hembrock maintains the IRS hasn't intervened in the matter.

IRS spokesman Sam Serio would not comment.

The parade committee in 1994 opened the account under the Legion's employer identification number because the Legion was the initial sponsor, said Hembrock, a former commander of Post 236.

Revenue from ad sales was deposited into the account at Keystone Financial, formerly American Trust Bank.

As a Legion member, Hembrock said he was authorized to open the account and sign checks with a countersigner, who didn't have to be a Legion member.

The parade committee chose DeLauney, Hembrock said.

The committee kept the account under the Legion's banner even after the organization fell into financial turmoil. Parade committee members didn't foresee a problem, Hembrock said.

DeLauney and parade committee member Jan Wetterer went to the bank in early September to move the funds into an account not affiliated with the Legion after Hembrock transferred his membership to the Morris Frock post in Hagerstown, DeLauney said.

Wetterer's name was to replace Hembrock's on the account, she said.

The women were told at the bank that Legion members had recently tried to withdraw the money from the account, but failed without the signatures of Hembrock and DeLauney, Wetterer said.

Bank officials told DeLauney and Wetterer the money would remain in the bank until the Legion and parade committee "could work it out," Wetterer said.

Bank Manager Pam Gossard said Tuesday she could not comment on the account.

The Legion's finance officer, Carl Rihard, tried to contact Hembrock about the frozen account but Rihard's phone calls weren't returned, said Witmer.

Hembrock and DeLauney said they were never contacted.

Rihard couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday.

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