York County, foundation argue over use of donations

adouglas@heraldonline.comSeptember 14, 2013 

Any donation originally designated to support York County’s museums can be used for other purposes if the donor agrees in writing, according to a letter from the state Attorney General’s office.

The letter and an email exchange are included in recently court filings from the Culture and Heritage Foundation of York County.

The foundation was initially established to exclusively support York County’s public museums. In May 2012 the foundation board decided to support other causes.

The change was one reason the York County Council sued the foundation in June 2013. At issue is whether donations initially designated for the county’s museums can be used for other purposes.

The letter and emails from state Assistant Attorney General Mary Frances Jowers were included in the foundation’s latest effort to get the lawsuit dropped. York County Master-in-Equity Jack Kimball has denied both of the foundation’s requests.

Kimball also has denied York County’s request for an injunction to prevent the foundation from distributing land or money donated prior to May 2012 for any purpose other than supporting its museums.

To bolster its case, the county submitted an affidavit in August that claims the “foundation has already distributed funds to other organizations that it should have been holding for the benefit of the commission.”

The affidavit was signed by York County’s museum commission chairman – the leader of a group charged with overseeing museum operations. The York County Council appoints commission members.

York County and the commission want control over what is left of the land that Jane Spratt McColl donated in 1998.

She and her family gave the foundation about 400 acres of land along the Catawba River near Sutton Road and Interstate 77. About 60 acres have been sold for development, with the proceeds being used by the foundation to pay down debt related to a failed development deal, officials have said.

Documents related to the lawsuit show that museum officials expected that the McColl land eventually would be deeded to York County and that they believed the gift was made to the foundation on the museum’s behalf.

In the past, foundation and county officials agreed that some of the land would be used for a future museum.

In July, the foundation filed an affidavit that quoted McColl saying she wishes for the foundation to have control over her gift – not York County or the museum commission.

State law gives York County no “cause for action” in attempting to assert legal rights to the McColl land, the foundation claims in its filings.

The enforcement of how a private foundation uses its assets falls to the secretary of state and attorney general in South Carolina, not the courts, the foundation asserts.

In a “conditional answer” to York County’s lawsuit filed on Sept. 3, the foundation denies nearly every claim York County has made in its lawsuit.

The county also filed an amended lawsuit.

One of the changes includes removing the claim that York County has not, since 2000, been notified, nor had the chance, to review any changes to the foundation’s by-laws.

As were foundation donors, the county was notified ten months after the foundation’s statement of purpose changed in May 2012.

The county added a claim that the foundation has said assets donated originally for the purpose of supporting its museums will now be put toward benefiting other organizations or causes.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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