October 25, 2023 1132 PM
An open letter to our communities,
It’s time to put some vicious rumors about Alpine Humane Society to rest by explaining how the organization’s finances work.
Alpine Humane Society is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Most of the nasty and incorrect gossip swirls around our $1 million trust. Let’s set the record straight (again). In the mid-1990s, Dr. Helen Cole of Sul Ross State University left, in her will, a $1 million trust for the society. It is possible that Dr. Cole did not herself realize that the way that trust was structured does not benefit the society in the way she might have intended.
However, the trust is a legal structure and cannot be altered. Here’s some history:
At Dr. Cole’s request, the trust was placed under management by Edward Jones Trust Company. The trust directive stated that the trust was to be managed under the laws of the state of Texas, but EJTC’s trust division operates in Missouri, resulting in it, in fact, being managed in Missouri and falling under Missouri law.
In 2019, I was hired as executive director of Alpine Humane Society (AHS) and looked at how the trust worked. In a conference call with the trust managers, I asked questions. I had immediate concerns about their answers regarding how the trust distributions were implemented because I found, after doing some simple math, that what they said should have been distributed to AHS was, in fact, NOT for several years.
I learned that the $1 million can NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances, be touched by AHS or anyone else. This is an important aspect that the public has never correctly grasped. AHS gets distributions from the trust yearly under a specific formula state law sets. Under EJTC, distributions were made twice annually. Currently, they are made quarterly.
The fact is that the trust managers invest the principal of the trust (the million dollars plus any dividends) in a range of stocks and bonds. Those investments pay dividends. AHS only receives the INTEREST earned on the account that the $1 million and those dividends are in.
For example, at one point, when the stock market was doing well in around 2021, the ensure trust was valued at as much as $1.5 million. That year, the trust earned attractive dividends, and AHS earned the INTEREST ONLY on those dividends, according to the law governing these types of trusts. Interest rates have been very, very low for many years, as anyone with a savings account knows. Earned interest rates are only about .57% (just over half of 1%).
For 2021, AHS received just under $80,000 from the trust. Not only do we only receive the interest, but that amount is capped at 5%. So even if the trust reached $2 million because of fantastic gains and earned interest rates skyrocketed, AHS could only receive a maximum of $100,000 annually.
That year was the most income AHS has EVER received from the trust, after I pointed out unpaid dividends from EJTC. At that time, our annual budget was around $250,000. So, $80,000 was significant but not even half of our budget.
Fast forward to 2022, and I learned that over the years, as I did the math for each year, EJTC did not distribute the amounts from the trust that it was required to send to AHS due to errors and unnecessary fees they were charging to the trust. Upon learning this, I wanted to remove the trust from the control of EJTC and bring it back to Texas, as Dr. Cole originally intended.
I found that this required a lawyer. We engaged a well-respected law firm from El Paso and an attorney specializing in nonprofit issues. They helped us sue EJTC to remove the trust from their oversight and return it to El Paso. This was a significant legal battle, but we prevailed, and our attorney fees were covered by EJTC in the settlement. We brought the trust under the management of the nonprofit Paso del Norte Community Foundation in El Paso, which, unlike EJTC, which is an investment advisory firm, has a stated fiduciary responsibility to the organizations for which it manages money.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office had to review the terms of the trust and the guidelines of the foundation’s management in this lawsuit. That office tried to prevent us from receiving a full 5% of the value of the trust annually. Again, we prevailed and received that amount in quarterly installments for 2022 and this year.
The stock and bond markets have not been spectacular since moving the trust to the foundation’s management. In 2022, we received $71,767 from the trust, and so far this year have received $42,995. In the years since 2021, the overall value of the trust has dropped to a low of $1.17 million.
Allegations that AHS, its board members, staff, or I have somehow squandered $1 million dollars are slanderous. If anything, our actions since 2019 resulted in MORE income for the organization. No one with Alpine Humane Society questioned EJTC and pointed out its failure to distribute trust revenue to AHS for years. In fact, our action against EJTC resulted in $64,000 being paid to us as a lump sum for what they failed to distribute over the years as trustee.
The trust has always been managed by a trustee, and AHS can never, ever receive anything more than up to 5% of the interest earned on the investment dividends. We have no way to manage or access the money ourselves. We only receive what the trust allows by law. The trust is a perpetual legal structure. It never matures, and the $1 million never becomes available to AHS. If AHS were to cease operations, the trust would be transferred to the National ASPCA (Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) per Dr. Cole’s directive.
In addition to putting the trust in better management since 2019, I have worked with my staff to increase our Thrift Store revenue, which is our number one source of income to fund our operations, from operating at an annual loss every year before 2019 to annual revenue of $152,264 as of December 31, 2022.
AHS employs a professional CPA firm to manage and review its financials monthly. The organization has internal financial controls. We are happy to have anyone who has questions about our financial management make an appointment to meet with us to discuss how we manage our funds.
The rumor mill has only hurt our opportunities to obtain more individual donations, as those who perpetuate ugly and false gossip cause potential donors to avoid supporting us based on their false and slanderous accusations.
Our only goal is to improve the lives of cats and dogs in our community. We have six staff members who do that work with extreme passion. Only four work full time, and I, being one of them, removed myself from the payroll a few months ago to preserve those other jobs as we struggle financially due to higher costs for insurance, supplies, veterinary care, and the food we buy for the animals at the Alpine Animal Shelter. Our donations for 2023 are down by 46%. I continue to serve in a volunteer capacity at this time to manage the organization.
We need caring people to donate to Alpine Humane Society and to trust in our commitment to our fiduciary responsibility for the trust income and other funds. We cannot understand why anyone would want to spread malicious lies and try to discourage donors, keeping us from doing the work we are passionate about –– caring for the pets and people of our community.
Without significant donations and other sources of revenue that we are pursuing, including grants, the reduced trust distributions and higher operating costs threaten our existence. Please consider being TEAM AHS by combating lies and giving generously. The cats and dogs in our community deserve nothing less.
Jeanine M. Bishop
Executive Director Alpine Humane Society
It doesn’t seem right to sacrifice county land for the sole benefit of a private business enterprise; it is setting a very bad precedent and could result in future dire consequences. Needless to say, I am advocating for saving Vizcaino Park as the park it was intended to be — a park to be used and enjoyed by the people of Marfa and Presidio County, not as an entryway to a campground/boutique hotel/restaurant/3-D generated housing compound.
What is transparency? Transparency is the quality of being easily seen through. Transparency in governance refers to being open and honest; this requires disclosure of all relevant information so that others can make informed decisions. The members of the Jeff Davis County Commissioners Court were elected to truthfully and transparently represent the constituents of their precinct and residents of this county.
The perception from this citizen’s side of the table is that the court isn’t truthful or transparent within its own ranks, let alone with their constituents, that commissioners are expected to vote along with the county judge. My perception is that they may have little choice to do otherwise when critical information isn’t made available to them to review well in advance of a vote. My perception is that information is made available to some but not all. If any of these perceptions are accurate, even a little, the court has again failed to be transparent and truthful, let alone fair. This makes it impossible for this court to truthfully and transparently represent residents of this county rather than just the interests and pursuits selected by this court.
For example, the October 12 issue of Big Bend Sentinel article about Peggy Fonseca said that Curtis Evans referred to the situation as “a witch hunt” — specifically, one led by a member within his own court, County Commissioner Royce Laskoskie.” This is not true; several of us citizens have been driving this pursuit of the truth. The fact that one or more commissioners might be disturbed that the head of our EMS was under investigation for failing to provide lifesaving interventions should be deeply concerning. This same article reports that “Dr. Travis Cosban of Big Bend Regional Medical Center is the Jeff Davis County Ambulance’s medical director,” which was just recently approved at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. Many who should be among the informed understand that Dr. Luecke is the medical director and don’t even know who this person is.
From my understanding, this court was willing to fund its original deficit budget from the millions of dollars in its reserves. There is so much in the reserve right now that it could fund our current budget for two years with no other revenue needed. Threatening to withhold employee raises and department funding is a manipulative heartstring pulling political tactic that, perceived from my side of the table, is a clear attempt to cast blame on commissioners Hurley and Laskoskie. My perception is that Judge Curtis Evans has been against commissioners Hurley and Laskoskie since election night when he left the courthouse without even a word to the two new commissioners. My perception is that his personal grudge will unfairly impact this county’s employees and departments. Commissioners, I urge you to vote for what you know is right, truthful and transparent and not how you think you are expected to vote by anyone at the table. Open and honest government is critical to the very existence of our way of life, and we should all hold our elected officials accountable to this standard.