To update you on last week’s story about the demise of the Eastern Sierra Hatchery Foundation (ESHF), I spoke this week with Brooke Pace, who was hired by the Foundation in January to take over the bookkeeping.
Pace said she brought in an independent accountant to audit the books once it became apparent the organization hadn’t filed taxes correctly in years.
Specifically, the organization, despite being a 501(c)3 non-profit, had inexplicably been paying California state taxes. Pace also said that no assets were declared on the returns.
When she suggested that this overpayment of taxes be recovered, she was told to leave it alone, since the Foundation was soon to be disbanded anyway.
Pace also said that when the precursor to the ESHF, the Hot Creek Hatchery Foundation, was originally formed, the goal of the Foundation was to raise money, buy equipment and take care of seasonal employees.
At that time, it was Pace’s understanding that the seasonal employees were placed on Emil Rummel’s payroll. These employees also got their worker’s comp through Rummel.
“I found no record of what Rummel paid these employees, or what the Foundation paid Rummel to carry these employees,” said Pace.
Rummel told The Sheet Thursday that indeed, he’d written checks out of his personal account to pay employees. When asked if he were reimbursed by the Foundation for this, Rummel said, “I took care of a great deal of it on my own.” When asked what dollar amount that might equate to, Rummel said he didn’t know. “I don’t think I kept any of those records,” he said.
The Sheet asked Rummel why he thought the ESHF was disbanded. Rummel replied, “It was going in the wrong direction.” Expanding on that statement, Rummel said the wrong direction was towards Inyo County. “This was not an Inyo County organization,” he said.
Sheet: Instead of dissolving the organization, why didn’t the people who disagreed with the new direction simply step down and let those who remained interested continue forward?
Rummel: That’s the way it was discussed [to dissolve] and that’s the way we did it.”
Board member Mike McKenna said putative Board President Mike Seefeldt (who Pace said apparently assumed the mantle of the presidency without a formal vote of the Board, which, she says, is a violation of the Foundation’s bylaws) told the rest of the Board prior to the dissolution, “I’m the president and I can hire and fire anyone I want.”
McKenna said he responded to this comment by calling Seefeldt a dictator, which led to the following exchange:
McKenna: This is not a dictatorship.
Seefeldt: Yes it is.
Former Board member Bruce Ivey was one of two members to vote against dissolution. He believed those who didn’t like the idea of the ESHF expanding its scope of interest (by helping neighboring hatcheries which weren’t afflicted with the New Zealand Mud Snail) should have quit.
“It takes a lot of time, energy and money to create a 501(c)3,” said Ivey, who said it was a shame to let this 501(c)3 just die.
Ivey said “The DFG hates these partnerships. They find them awkward.”
“I don’t think anything will close down just because the ESHF doesn’t exist,” he said, “but we may see a reduction in fish production.”
His prediction: DFG will simply say to local municipalities: “You want fish? Just buy ‘em and plant ‘em yourself.”
Sheet: Why do you think that?
Ivey: Because that’s exactly what DFG Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup told me … and what I believe is that for every dollar less they spend on fish planting, they’ll see one less dollar in fish license revenue.
Which could have tremendous economic impact on Mono County. As former County Supervisor and former ESHF Board member Ed Inwood told The Sheet, tourism is the County’s economic engine, fishing is the most important element of that, and that much of that business is driven by the hatchery system.
“My question is, how are we going to stay in business in Mono County?”
Inwood did agree with the dissolution of the ESHF, saying, “The public-private partnership wasn’t happening on the state side.”