Council might dismantle North Irwin recreation organization
North Irwin council could shut down the borough's recreation board after its current members failed to report to council and held meetings in private.
Council plans to discuss the future of the Recreation Organization of North Irwin, or RONI, and its membership on Monday at 7 p.m., during its monthly meeting at North Irwin Town Hall, according to council president Kim Macalus.
“Right now, council plans to discuss completely wiping RONI clean, and anybody who wants to apply or reapply can do that,” Macalus said. “I'm hoping we find potential new residents coming out of the woodwork.” Council appoints members to RONI, which is considered a borough-sponsored organization, Macalus said.
RONI is responsible for planning all of the borough-sponsored recreation events, such as the Halloween parade, Light Up Night, and the annual senior citizens dinner, as well as providing gift cards for groceries to needy families around the holidays.
Although the borough does not include money in its annual budget for RONI, Macalus said, it typically receives an annual $500 donation from the Norwin Community Foundation, along with donations from borough residents.
Michelle Frye, Gordon Stoves, Sonnet Kettren, Jim Nicholls and president Amber Nicholls, as well as council liaisons Ron Brown and Macalus, are the members of RONI. The board has two vacancies, Macalus said.
Last week, several members of council planned to meet with the members of RONI, but only two members – Stoves and Kettren – showed up, Macalus said.
Amber Nicholls said she had not met with Macalus and declined to comment further.
Kettren could not be reached for comment, and Stoves declined to comment.
Frye's phone number is unlisted.
Macalus said RONI held its last board meeting in public last November at North Irwin Town Hall. Recently, though, the board has been meeting at the Nicholls' home or another private residence. The group still appears on council's monthly meeting agenda.
Macalus accused the current members of RONI of running the organization as an exclusive club. She said holding the meetings in private residences discouraged the public from finding out what was happening with the organization or getting involved.
Keeping the organization small limits what it can do, Macalus said.
“In the past, anyone interested in joining could just come in,” she said. “The current members have grand ideas but no manpower to make them happen.”
William Kerr, superintendent of Norwin School District and director of the Norwin Community Foundation, said the foundation granted $500 to RONI last December.
When RONI submitted its annual request for funding through the foundation, it listed its goals as providing “many children's activities, a full-course dinner party for the senior citizens and to donate gift cards for groceries to unfortunate residents over the holidays,” Kerr said.
Kerr said the foundation's trustees do not request to see budgets from community organizations or set strict guidelines for how funding is spent. Instead, it trusts the organizations requesting funding will meet the goals outlined in their annual proposals, he said.
“If there is any indication that an organization receiving funding from the foundation may not be able to fulfill its mission and goals, then the board of trustees would take that into consideration when reviewing future requests,” Kerr said.
Although Macalus is not worried that the current members mismanaged or illegally spent money, she said, members of council are curious as to how RONI is spending its money, especially because it did not hold the borough's Light Up Night celebration, did not provide grocery cards to needy families and scaled back the senior citizens dinner in May.
“We have no idea what's going on with this group,” Macalus said. “RONI is an extension of council, so it is supposed to have public meetings, and we have the right to know what is going on with them, their checkbook and events.
“But right now, there is zero accountability.”
Mayor Jim Douglas said the borough auditors review RONI as part of their annual audit reports.
Douglas said any discrepancies regarding the organization's funds would come through in the auditing process.
“Maybe some fresh blood would help get some ideas going because RONI is something this community needs,” Douglas said.
In the meantime, several members of council already have spoken with members of the North Irwin Volunteer Fire Department about organizing and sponsoring the annual Halloween parade.
“Hopefully, somebody can pick up these events and run with them,” Macalus said. “When these things just don't happen, it's sad.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.