U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, at the Air Force Museum.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base -- U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, says he is launching an investigation into the finances of the National Aviation Hall of Fame headquartered at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The museum lost the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in December 2016 after the board of trustees announced it was moving the event for one year to Fort Worth, Texas, in 2017. It marked the first time the ceremony will leave Dayton since it started in 1962.
In a January 25th letter to the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees chairman, William R. Harris, Jr., Turner alleged his office had received complaints of “financial mismanagement and misappropriation of NAHF resources and assets.”
These issues “appear to threaten the very viability of the NAHF to meet the basic purpose” of the organization’s congressional charter and sustain its not-for-profit status in Ohio, the congressman wrote.
In an interview Wednesday, Turner said the financially struggling Hall approached him with past concerns of closing. He said he had worked with the Hall “for a number of years” on financial issues. The aim of the investigation is to put the Hall on a path to financial stability, he said.
“Just a few years ago, they approached me with concerns that their finances were so bad that they might close their doors at the Air Force museum,” Turner said. “With their recent decision to relocate the enshrinement dinner, the question has arisen again as to the ability to meet their financial needs. I’m very concerned that the long-term viability of the National Aviation Hall of Fame is at risk.”
Harris said in a statement to NAHF trustees, enshrinees and volunteers that he has “complete confidence in our finances.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner
Turner’s letter says the congressional investigation will determine the source and use of operational funds, the use of funds to pay staff, consultants, subcontractors and reimbursement of expenses for past and current members of the Board of Trustees, along with board governance issues.
Asked what evidence his office had currently to support the complaints, Turner said: “At this point, there are concerns that have been raised. Our effort is to get to the bottom of them. This is an organization that shouldn’t be nearly broke but apparently is. We want to find out why and how, where their money is going and how it needs to be directed to be able to ensure their long-term viability.”
Repeated messages were left for Harris, and NAHF’s executive director Amy Spowart, enshrinement director Ron Kaplan, and other board members for comment.
In Harris’s statement, the board chairman wrote all audits had been conducted by an independent firm.
“The Board of Trustees were asked to make a very difficult decision this past year and after much deliberation, it was decided by vote to move the Enshrinement from Dayton to Texas,” he wrote. “With such a move as this, it is not unexpected that we would undergo extra scrutiny.”
According to data filed with guidestar.org, a website that tracks non-profit organizations’ financial data, the Hall has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars the past several years.
In 2015, for example, the Hall reported a loss of $188,456 on expenses of $655,032 and revenue of $466,576. The non-profit relies on donations and revenues from the enshrinement ceremony as primary income. Trustees serve as volunteers.
The decision to move the enshrinement ceremony upset many in the community.
Turner on Wednesday released a Jan. 9 letter letter from Frank J. Winslow, chairman of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance. The Hall of Fame is a member of the alliance, but the alliance does not have oversight over the Hall.
In the letter, Winslow said he was “very disappointed” the NAHF trustees rejected offers of support to keep the enshrinement ceremony in Dayton this year.
“We remain exceptionally concerned about the viability of this organization (NAHF) and how it can sustain itself in the future,” Winslow wrote.
Winslow said Wednesday he didn’t know of any mismanagement at NAHF.
“That’s not an issue I was aware of,” he said.
Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, said he appreciated Turner’s interest in the organization.
“We have a great asset here that makes up what a visitor experiences when they come to the National Aviation Heritage Area,” he said. “We want that asset to stay intact.”
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