The City of Sedalia took over operations of the Sedalia Animal Shelter on July 1 from the Sedalia Animal Shelter board, with the board only transferring the equipment inside the already city-owned building. Now, there are questions about a sizable donation made to the shelter last year.
Sedalian Ethel Hall died in June 2014 and left $334,000 to the Sedalia Animal Shelter. At the time, the Sedalia Animal Shelter was under the direction of the board, so the board obtained the donation. Once the city took over operations due to several concerns with how the board was running the shelter, that donation remained in the board’s bank account.
The board finished up paying the shelter bills it was responsible for, and plans to use the rest of the money for spaying and neutering stray cats in Sedalia, but not everyone agrees with the decision. Some people, including city officials, think the money should be donated to the new Sedalia Animal Shelter being built on New York Avenue by the Heckart Family Foundation.
“My idea was that the lady had given this money in good faith to go toward the animal shelter,” said Nancy Bybee, former board treasurer. “… (Sue Heckart said she is) going to be short and will need more money (for the shelter). We need to give this money to the Heckart Foundation so she can finish this shelter and do it right since it was left to the shelter. (The board doesn’t) agree. They want to keep this money.
“… What they think is doing good, for instance spaying and neutering animals if someone can’t afford to, I told them I didn’t think (Hall) thought that’s what it would go toward. It should go to the new shelter.”
Bybee, who was a board member for about 15 years, said she pitched the idea of donating the remaining money from Hall’s donation to the new shelter, but the rest of the board disagreed. After the discussion, Bybee said she resigned as treasurer because she didn’t agree with their decision. Now only seven board members remain, down from 14 a few years ago.
Board President Becky Hardesty said the nonprofit organization has been renamed the Sedalia Animal Society now that the group is no longer associated with the animal shelter. She said she believes the money rightfully belongs to the board.
“It was left to us. I think it’s better spent on animals than on a building,” she said. “And we didn’t say we wouldn’t give any money to the new shelter. We were waiting to see what it is that they might need. … Mrs. Hall wanted to help animals and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Hardesty said they have spoken to a lawyer, who said the board is within its legal rights to keep the funds. The wording of the donation is in somewhat of a gray area, and Hall has no living relatives to help clear up the dispute. City Administrator Gary Edwards and other city officials said they agree the money belongs to the Sedalia Animal Shelter, not the board.
“(The donation) was worded in such a way that it was the animal shelter and the board that oversaw it at that time, and this was before (the city) took it over in July,” Edwards said. “That donation was made and it was clear from my understanding … it should be going to an animal shelter. (The Sedalia Animal Society has) no animal shelter.
“Instead of going to individuals it should’ve gone to a facility. Consequently, that $334,000 is with individuals. Yes, they are a humane society, but without a facility. They’re out there on their own. We’re hopeful those dollars can be used for animals; that’s a lot of money.”
Hardesty said the new society plans to also offer to pay for spay and neuter services and pet food for families who can’t afford it. While the group hasn’t done anything in the last few months since handing over shelter operations, Hardesty said the spay/neuter program just recently started, as she was headed to pick up two cats Friday afternoon after speaking with the Democrat.
“It’s still the same group that was running the shelter, we just changed our name,” Hardesty said. “We’re not running the shelter but we’re still doing the same kind of stuff, helping animals.”
Both Edwards and Bybee agreed that $334,000 seemed like quite a large sum to be used only for spaying and neutering cats in Sedalia.
“That’s an awful lot of money just to be sitting there and nothing designated to do with it,” Bybee said. “I still think that they should turn loose that money, give it to the Heckart Foundation so (Heckart) can put it in the new shelter and it will be a wonderful place, and maybe put a plaque up that (Hall) had given a large donation to the shelter in recognizing her.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.