While U.S. Rep. Mike Turner has asked for a panel of community leaders to investigate the finances of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, a Dayton attorney representing the nonprofit group has asked the congressman for a “public apology” and a “retraction of accusations.”
A Feb. 2 letter from the NAHF’s attorney, David C. Greer, to Turner released Monday said board trustees were upset two board members signed form letters “that your office obviously prepared” in support of the probe and “then represented those letters as if they were requests for a Congressional investigation of what sounds like criminal/ethical issues.”
“The reputation of the organization, its Board members and leaders does not deserve that kind of treatment,” attorney David C. Greer wrote. “I trust you will make a public apology and retraction of your accusations.”
The congressman said Monday any allegations were issues the blue ribbon panel would investigate once it’s formed in upcoming weeks. On Monday, he also announced the support of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, for the probe.
In a Jan. 25 letter to NAHF chairman William R. Harris Jr., Turner referred to his office receiving complaints of “financial mismanagement and misappropriation of NAHF resources and assets.” The letter did not detail what evidence existed for the allegations.
“A congressional inquiry is not a criminal investigation,” Turner, R-Dayton, said Monday in an interview. “(The attorney) is well aware of that. “If I believed anything criminal was happening at the Aviation Hall of Fame, I would be referring it to the sheriff.
“However,” Turner added, “this is an important organization both nationally and locally. They have a congressional charter and they are subject to congressional oversight. There are serious questions about the way they have been operating and those questions need answered.”
Dayton loses Hall of Fame ceremony to Texas
Financial data has shown the Hall of Fame has lost money the past several years. In 2015, for example, the Hall posted a loss of about $185,000, according to GuideStar, which tracks financial data on nonprofits.
Located inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Hall has enshrined more than 230 aerospace legends since it launched in 1962.
For decades, the NAHF staged a yearly enshrinement black-tie gala dubbed “Oscar night in aviation” in the Dayton region. But in December, the NAHF Board of Trustees announced this year’s event will move for one year to Fort Worth, Texas, marking the first time the ceremony will be outside the Dayton area.
In a statement Monday, Harris said the hall “welcomes any additional scrutiny” the decision to move the enshrinement ceremony “one time out of Dayton for 2017 may bring.”
Harris said Turner “or for that matter anyone else” was welcome to examine the Hall’s audited statements, meeting records and ask questions.
“The NAHF stands by the integrity of our Board of Trustees, which includes some of the leading industry, aerospace, and military personnel in the county, as well as our independent auditors” and two Dayton area accountants who are board members. Board members are volunteers. Many have made donations to the nonprofit and paid their own expenses to travel to and from the Hall of Fame, officials say.
In recent days, Turner also called on the Hall of Fame to “cease and desist” any talk of selling artifacts to raise money. Harris said in the statement Monday the Hall of Fame scuttled talk of selling a Wright-signed airplane propeller in the spring of 2015.
“No Board action has even been considered since that time almost two years ago,” Harris said.
Days after Turner’s Jan. 25 public announcement he would launch a probe into the NAHF, the congressman announced two board members had signed letters which gave the inquiry access to a broad swath of records the lawmaker had requested. The letters were dated Jan. 23, copies show.
Retired Air Force Col. Donald I. VanDerKarr and fellow board member Katie McCallum said in separate letters released Monday they did not initiate the investigation with complaints, but responded to a request from Turner’s office for authority to probe records if the letters were needed.
Both wrote they did not expect their Jan. 23 letters would be publicly released.
In the NAHF attorney’s Feb. 2 letter to Turner, Greer wrote in part two board members were “misinformed” about the form letter they were asked to sign.
VanDerKarr, 88, of Beavercreek, declined comment Monday and referred questions to NAHF’s attorney and Turner. McCallum could not be reached for immediate comment.
Local chamber, partnership involvement
Turner has asked Philip L. Parker of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Hoagland, of the Dayton Development Coalition, and Brady Kress, of Dayton History, to select members for the blue ribbon panel. All three men are the president and CEO of the organizations they lead.
“If there are concerns about about the operation and the financial success of the organization we would rather help out sooner rather than later,” Parker said. “The hope is that the folks that are chosen I’m sure will be objective and they want what is best for the NAHF and what’s best for the community.
“I don’t think that there is anything so onerous that people are looking for something specific that would get someone in trouble,” Parker added. “I think this is more about how can we look at their financial position, how can we offer what they need, and then can we offer suggestions to how to go about finding new or additional resources.”
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