Panel chosen to investigate Aviation Hall of Fame finances

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Rep. Turner provides update on investigation into National Aviation Hall of Fame

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Congressman Mike Turner announced the members Thursday.

Congressman Mike Turner has chosen a former state Republican Party leader, former Dayton city commissioner and others as members of a panel to investigate the finances and provide recommendations on the future of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Turner, R-Dayton, said Thursday the five-member panel will explore “how we can ensure that the National Aviation Hall of Fame, which is struggling financially, can have the support of our community.”

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The Aviation Hall of Fame, which has enshrined more than 230 aviation icons and aerospace pioneers from the Wright brothers to moon walking astronaut Neil Armstrong, is located inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The goal here is to make certain that we understand what is the current financial crisis that the National Aviation Hall of Fame has, what is it going to take long term to sustain them, what changes need to happen at the National Aviation Hall of Fame,and how can our community come to the table in a meaningful way to ensure their longer term viability,” he said.

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Kevin DeWine

Kevin DeWine

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Kevin DeWine

In a Jan. 25 letter to NAHF, Turner announced that his office received “complaints of financial mismanagement and misappropriation of NAHF resources and assets” and he was initiating an “investigation” into its finances. The letter did not elaborate on specific allegations, but made a wide request for documents by last week.

NAHF President Michael J. Quiello has denied the allegations and said the NAHF would work with Turner’s panel only if it intended to restore the Hall of Fame’s reputation in the midst of the congressman’s inquiry, and work to strengthen ties with the Dayton region to support the group’s mission.

David C. Greer, a Dayton attorney representing the NAHF, said he “will be happy to receive any positive suggestion that the congressman or committee or anyone else wants to send me (about) the board of NAHF and its mission.”

He added he sent Turner more than a decade of audited financial statements from the nonprofit. “I have fully and appropriately responded to the congressman’s inquiry in the time he gave me and I am unaware of anything that could be properly termed quote ‘investigation’ closed quote of any substantiated complaint of the NAHF,” Greer said.

He also has sent Turner a prior letter that the congressman had no oversight authority or legal right to demand the full list of documents demanded.

The attorney added he has acted as the NAHF liaison to Turner’s inquiry and the panel, but he has not heard from the congressman directly.

“I am working with the blue ribbon panel and the National Aviation Hall of Fame,” Turner said. “They can hire whatever lawyers they want, but I’m going to be responding directly to them.”

Turner said the panel would begin its work within a week.

Who is on the panel?

* Kevin DeWine, a consultant and partner with CBD Advisors in Beavercreek, will act as chairman. The former state lawmaker was speaker pro tempore in the Ohio House of Representatives and is a former Dayton Power and Light Co. employee.

* Idotha "Bootsie" Neal, a former Dayton city commissioner who once led the Wright-Dunbar Business District, which includes the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Neal served on the city commission while Turner was mayor in the 1990s.

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Idotha Bootsie Neal poses along West Third Street. Staff file photo by Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Idotha Bootsie Neal poses along West Third Street. Staff file photo by Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Combined ShapeCaption
Idotha Bootsie Neal poses along West Third Street. Staff file photo by Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

* Jenell Ross, president of the Bob Ross Auto Group. She is a member of the University of Dayton Board of Trustees and the Minority Business Partnership with the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, among other affiliations.

* Eric Cluxton, president of both the Mound Development Corp. and the Mound Business Park, is a former president of Key Bank in Dayton.

* Merle F. Wilberding, a Dayton attorney.

No discussion to move Hall

In an interview last month, Quiello said NAHF trustees have the business expertise to deal with the financial challenges the nonprofit has faced. GuideStar records show the nonprofit has lost money for several years. In 2015, the organization reported losing more than $185,000 for the year, records show.

Board of trustees members pay their own travel-related expenses to meet in Dayton and have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the nonprofit, he has said.

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Quiello also said then NAHF trustees were frustrated “because we don’t know what (Turner) is trying to accomplish here other than having us make a vote to pick up the Hall of Fame and move to another city.”

Turner responded then he would draft House legislation to remove the non-profit’s congressional charter.

Hall of Fame board members met privately in Dayton on Thursday but the topic of moving the hall to another city was not discussed, the organization said.

“If the National Aviation Hall of Fame refuses to participate and be subject to congressional oversight and we step forward with the purposes of aiding them and they continue their efforts to undermine our community certainly they should be subject to congressional action,” Turner said Thursday. “When the president of the National Aviation Hall of Fame threatened to take the National Aviation Hall of Fame out of our community, my response was well you won’t with your congressional charter.”

The panel was assembled by the leaders of the Dayton Development Coalition, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, and Dayton History, Turner said.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, have backed the probe, Turner said.

The probe follows a NAHF board decision in December when trustees voted 15-12 to break a decades-old tradition and move a yearly black-tie enshrinement gala out of the Dayton region for the first time since it began in 1962. For one year, the dinner will move to Fort Worth, Texas in October. The move upset many in Dayton.

Hall of Fame officials have said they long studied the move as part of a business strategy to broaden the nonprofit’s national recognition as a nationwide organization and to raise more money then it could in Dayton alone. The nonprofit has launched a three-year, $5 million campaign to build its endowment and to create a more interactive and engaging Learning Center at the Air Force museum.

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