Under pressure to produce a transparent review of its decision-making and distribution processes, the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation's leader said Wednesday that there is no money built-in to the fund for extraneous functions like an audit.
Dr Charles Herrick said that the major concern appears to be donor intent. From the onset, the fundraising effort which was established by United Way of Western Connecticut with the Newtown Savings Bank serving as a facilitator and depository for the effort, was generally regarded as a fund that would eventually help support the families and victims of 12/14.
The question comes down to whether donors intended to support only those immediate families and staff who suffered deaths or injuries, or if there was also intent to provide longer-term assistance to residents, town and school workers and others who suffer some type of post traumatic affects as a result of their exposure to the shooting.
“We're trying to find a transparent and mutually agreeable way to satisfy everyone's concerns,” Dr Herrick said.
The desire to see more clarity regarding donor intent, and how the balance of $11 million is handled after distributions to the most immediate victims and families, extends from the office of Governor Dannel Malloy to Washington, DC.
On July 12, Gov Malloy wrote to the foundation expressing frustration with the pace and manner of decision making in terms of distributing funds.
One day earlier, the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation released a plan to distribute $7.7 million of the $11.6 million among families and survivors, and to have committees decide on uses for the rest of the money.
Under that proposal, the families of each of the 26 victims of the 12/14 shootings would receive $281,000 in donated funds; the families of the 12 surviving children who were in the classrooms where the shootings occurred would receive $20,000 each; and two teachers who were injured in the incident would divide $150,000.
On July 19, Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy also stepped into the fray, calling for an independent audit of the foundation and United Way to determine how to divide the money based on donor intent.
The lawmakers said they appreciate the complexity of the issue and the good intentions of those who worked with the foundation, but share concerns that the determination that 70 percent of the money was meant to benefit victims’ families was not reached through a verifiable, comprehensive analysis of contributions.
Dr Herrick said the United Way is already handling its own internal audit to determine “their initial findings (about donor intent) are fact.”
A spokesman for the foundation said decisions on how to spend the money were based on donor intent and the foundation tried to balance short-term and long-term needs.
But unlike United Way, which has a budget for its physical operation in Danbury, and unforeseen expenses like legal costs or an audit, Dr Herrick said no such consideration was made when the collected funds were turned over to the foundation for distribution.
“There is no other money than what we intend to distribute,” Dr Herrick said. “So we're looking at ways to do an independent review that costs no money. We don't want to use the fund (to cover audit costs).”
He said the initial group of qualified recipients is in the final stages of submitting the necessary forms to receive designated first-round distributions. That process involves “some logistical complexities,” so an August 2 deadline for all claims paperwork to be filed will not be “a firm deadline” according to Dr Herrick.
The foundation chairman said while much of the panel's energy is currently devoted to the initial distribution process, the group is also hoping to assuage the concerns of donors and officials alike regarding how the balance of the fund will be spent.
“We're very sensitive to issues raised throughout the decision-making process,” Dr Herrick said. “Hopefully, families who are part of this (direct) distribution will also benefit from the needs based process. We intend to make sure future needs are met.”
Dr Herrick acknowledged there is “some confusion,” but he wants to ensure the community and foundation donors that “money is going to the families.”
“It's intended purpose is to support those affected by 12/14,” he said. “The money is there for them.”