Casey Davis meets with the Herald

In a meeting with the Herald on Tuesday, Dec. 13, Casey Davis previous board chair of the Senior Center answered  questions and gave his reaction to the changes and the meetings at the Senior Center.

“I’m very excited; the new members are getting grounded as a board,” Davis said. “There is a learning curve. We have some good thinkers and doers on the board now and I think we will push through some things this winter and be looking good in a couple of months.”

At all three of the meetings held at the senior center, the question of what happened to the $1 million that was donated by the George Kirlin family had been asked multiple times.  Davis was asked if he could answer that question. 

Davis said the Kirlin family donated the money in 1993, before he came on the board as far as he could remember.  Safety guards had been put on the funds, he said, and the money was put in an emergency reserve account.  The money could not be touched without board approval and only went toward necessary purchases.

“When Sarah Blakeman was fired and arrested, there was only about $350,000 left in the account,” Davis said. “At the last meeting she was there,  she asked the board to remove the security guards and the board had refused. That was the meeting I asked for an executive session as staff had brought concerns about Blakeman to me at that time.”

Davis said when the board fired Blakeman they had no idea how bad of shape the Center was in because Blakeman was controlling all the money and information to the detriment of the organization. 

Davis could not answer where all of the $650,000 of the $1 million had gone.  He said when Blakeman was arrested, the federal government froze the Center’s funds and they had to use some of the remaining money to keep the center “afloat.”  Davis said that, as far as he knows, Blakeman is still paying back on what she stole.  He said the Center got a lump sum of $30,000 once, which he assumed was when the feds confiscated her property and sent the Center a check. Blakeman sent the first check for $25 from prison, Davis said, and he thinks the Center still gets payments from her. 

As for the $1 million listed on the 2019 tax form, which was a donation from the estate of Richard Salmela, Davis said that money was originally invested in the stock market and when it began losing money, the board asked attorney Tim Beppler to handle removing the $934,000 that was left and placing it in a money market account with Burrus Financial out of Utah. 

Davis said Don Hannon of Burrus Financial recently told him that was the best decision they had made as they saved over $100,000 by pulling it out of the stock market and investing in a money market account. 

“The board treats that money as an emergency only fund,” Davis said. “Sometimes, meeting payroll is an emergency.  Right now, I’ve been waiting for our grants to come in and we have payroll to meet.”

When asked why Davis hadn’t explained all this in the meetings when the question was raised, he said he hadn’t heard the question being asked or didn’t remember.

When asked if he intended to resign from the board now that there were new members, Davis said he thinks it is important for him to provide the history of the center for the new board, at least for a while, “then I’ll be happy to give up my seat someday, not too far down the road.”

“As far as the nepotism controversy,” Davis said, “in my years as mayor and county commissioner, I never placed a relative in a position.  I don’t believe in nepotism, but this situation just fell into place and things got weird when Aimee wasn’t coming back.  I had to find people quickly.”

The Senior Center has had its ups and downs, Davis said. He said the Center is always struggling to meet their expenses of $80,000 in payroll; $30,000 for food, and other unexpected expenses. The Center receives only $120,000 to $130,000 in income from grants, and they have had to tap into the emergency funds a bit, Davis said. He added that both the Evanston and the Mountain View centers have old stoves which need to be replaced. The home health program has an office in Star Valley and the program also provides nursing services in Kemmerer.

“We are struggling every month to break even and some months we don’t break even. We need to look at our priorities,” Davis said. “The marriage of home health and a senior center is a bad marriage.”

Davis said they need to focus on keeping the food service program working well and do more for the seniors. He said at the next meeting, the board needs to decide on a plan for recruiting a new director and spend some time getting to know the staff. Davis said they may look at separating the administrative and the grant-writing duties.  He said the board has received more letters from people interested in being on the board and they will be voting on several new members at the meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14.

To the question of whether Ottley will be let go at the Dec. 14 meeting, Davis said, “She will be let go soon, but there is still information we need to get from her—for example, what are the bills for? We still need her to help us and Aimee has never been about money. She has always been about the organization and the seniors.  She devoted a lot of time to the center.”

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