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Letters to the Editor

September 28, 2009

Is JFK director's pay fair?



To the editor:

As a participant and supporter of the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, I sincerely thank all of the individuals responsible for ensuring the run is a success year after year. In particular, I would like to thank the many volunteers who give so freely of their time. Without these dedicated volunteers, the JFK would truly not be possible.

With that said, I am writing this letter to provide you, the reader, with some important information regarding the JFK 50 Mile and I will allow you to draw your own conclusions.

From 2007 to 2008, the entry fee for the JFK 50 Mile increased substantially from $85 to $135, an increase of approximately 60 percent. Even the December 2008 issue of the nationally distributed Trail Runner magazine found this increase noteworthy, stating, "In 2008, the JFK 50 stunned many when the entry fee hiked up to $135, a major price tag for a 50 miler, which typically runs in the $75 ballpark."

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The entry fee for the upcoming 2009 JFK 50 Mile increased once again, to $145. According to Mike Spinnler, race director for the JFK 50 Mile, this increase was necessary because the number of runners cannot exceed 1,000. Simple math quickly allows anyone to determine that the JFK 50 Mile will raise $145,000 through entry fees in 2009.

The next logical question becomes: Who is responsible for these funds and how are they expended? In fact, numerous e-mail discussion groups and runner Web logs have cropped up on the Internet raising this exact same question.

The JFK 50 Mile was taken over by the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club (CVAC), a local running club, which happens to be headed up by Spinnler. The CVAC is a nonprofit organization under IRS code 501(c)(3) and as such pays no taxes and is required to submit an annual Form 990 tax return.

The CVAC's Form 990 tax return is public information, and according to its 2007 tax return, Spinnler, the president and JFK race director, received an annual salary of $45,500 and devoted 30 hours per week to the position.

For 2008, CVAC filed a Form 990EZ, which is formatted differently than the Form 990 that the CVAC filed for 2007. This makes a year-over-year comparison more difficult, but it is interesting to note that the CVAC's 2008 Form 990EZ tax return again shows Spinnler as the JFK race director, devoting only 20 hours per week to the position, but shows his compensation associated with that position as zero dollars. Yet the tax return shows employee salaries and other compensation of $65,000. However, there seems to be only one employee, namely Spinnler. So is Spinnler no longer being paid for his 20 hours per week?

Upon further review of the tax return, it is easy to determine that the JFK 50 Mile is the only race directed by the CVAC that generates significant revenue and profit. In 2008, CVAC's total revenue was $194,590, of which $135,000, or 70 percent, came from the JFK 50 Mile entry fees and of which at least $45,500, or more than 23 percent, went to the salary of the race director/executive director.

Every runner who participated in the 2008 JFK 50 Mile, including myself, paid $2.70 per mile to run the race, of which approximately 90 cents could have gone to pay the race director's salary.

I question how the CVAC's board of directors, assuming it has a board, can justify providing the race director/executive director this level of compensation for hosting one single, albeit significant, event. I would also like to point out that the CVAC's tax return fails to list a board of directors, which is quite peculiar as most nonprofit organizations have an active board of directors that exercises due diligence in overseeing the organizations.

In reality, very few coaches of local running clubs are able to draw such a significant salary and in fact, many race directors volunteer their time. Most high school and collegiate track/running coaches would love to receive almost $50,000 for all their time and efforts. I personally volunteer for several local nonprofit organizations that, unlike the CVAC, have multimillion-dollar budgets, numerous employees and compensate their full-time executive directors a comparable amount as the CVAC does.

The Form 990 Part VI, Section B, Line 15, even asks whether the process for determining the compensation of an organization's top management official included a review and approval by independent persons, comparable data and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision. As you can see, even the IRS is looking at the compensation of nonprofit organizations' top management.

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