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Whither Tara Circle?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

It started out as an organization hoping to acquire a magnificent $14 million 52-acre headquarters in Westchester County. But today, Tara Circle would be unable to even buy its proposed, much more modest, $1.2 million 5.8-acre headquarters in Yonkers.

“We do not have enough money to buy it outright but we have financial plans to take care of that,” Tara’s current president, Jim Rice, told the Echo on Monday.

Tara intends to initially lease the Yonkers property — part of the former Elizabeth Seton College property on North Broadway — for two years. Rice said that during this time, Tara hopes “to see that the Irish community is behind this project.”

If Tara then pursues its contract to buy the property, it would pay the City of Yonkers a balance of about $1 million.

Tara had hoped to announce the acquisition of its Yonkers headquarters around last St. Patrick’s Day. But on Monday, Rice told the Echo that Tara had to submit site drawings of the property, which included Tara’s proposed parking area, to the planning commission in Yonkers for review. He added that if the commission were satisfied, the drawings would then be sent to the city council for approval.

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However, the level of financial support for Tara within the Irish-American community is now a matter of debate. Not only did the organization fail to acquire King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, it has itself created a public-relations problem by its consistent refusal to publicly discuss details of its finances with anyone other than charter members who made contributions of $5,000 each. Now a charter member has said she is prepared to go to the State Supreme Court in her effort to obtain a satisfactory accounting of Tara’s financial situation.

The personal bankruptcy of former Tara President Ed Sheeran first reported in the Irish Echo, has also led to a renewed focus on Tara’s figures. Sheeran is no longer an officer of Tara. His bankruptcy came about as a result of his unsuccessful effort to develop a separate venture, a hotel and golf resort in his native County Roscommon.

Sheeran’s bankruptcy petition states that he had been hired as a consultant for a not-for-profit corporation which paid $1,000 a week gross. Rice confirmed to the Echo that the not-for-profit corporation was Tara Circle. “It was about a year’s consulting fee,” Rice said, adding that he was checking the exact dates when it was paid.

Rice said that Tara board members approved payment of the consulting fee on Oct. 26, 1992.

Accountability demanded

Despite Tara’s insistence that it has always given full details of its finances to charter members, charter member Eleanor McDonald, formerly one of Tara’s strongest supporters, has now demanded that she be given a full accounting of Tara’s figures.

McDonald, comptroller for the Town of Harrison and a former comptroller in Greenburgh, has more than 32 years’ experience in municipal finance. Furthermore, she is a former head of Tara’s development committee, and a founder of the Westchester County Friends of Tara Circle.

McDonald is seeking an independently certified audit report of Tara Circle for fiscal years ending December 1995, 1996 and 1997. She is also seeking copies of all IRS 990 returns for all years of Tara’s existence, as well as a complete listing of all revenues, receipts, disbursements and expenditures from the inception of Tara through June 30, 1998. She is the only charter member who has come forward seeking this information. There are believed to be at least 112 charter members.

“These records must show to whom each check was written and the purpose for same. The same is requested for the revenue side,” McDonald stated in her letter to Rice.

McDonald also wants to know if a Tara subvention certificate, which she and her sister hold, is valid and worth $5,000, as well as if she earned any interest on the certificate, if the rate is 6 percent, and when her certificate will be redeemable.

In addition, McDonald is seeking a list of all chairmen of the board, all presidents, all other officers and all members of the board of directors, past and present, from the inception of Tara.

She is also seeking a list of the names and addresses of board of directors and officers of an entity known as the Tara Center.

McDonald said that she was not threatening or accusing anyone, but she felt it was a moral obligation on her part to get a full accounting.

Rice said that he had no objection to giving the figures to McDonald, and he hoped to do so at a meeting with her, probably next month.

It appears that McDonald could have obtained Tara figures at charter member meetings in Manhattanville College, in Purchase. However, McDonald refuses to visit Manhattanville College in protest over its conferring of an award on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher some time ago. And, anyway, McDonald asserts that certain figures and information should “have been mailed to all charter members as a matter of course.”

“They never mailed me a copy of the figures,” she said.

But Rice said that nobody said McDonald can’t look at the figures. “It’s her option to come,” he said.

“We never refused any charter member access to this information,” Rice said. “I have been asked by a lot of members to visit them at their location and I never turned anyone down.”

Another charter member, who wished not to be named, said that when he attended charter members’ meetings, he found there was not enough of a breakdown of the figures. “There were broad headings, but not really a breakdown,” he said.

McDonald is the first charter member to publicly air demands on Tara. She said her feeling is that others will not say they made a mistake because they are embarrassed. “It was an emotional investment,” she said.

There has been suggestions that since Tara did not succeed in acquiring King’s College, or if it does not actually “buy” the Yonkers property, Tara may be no longer liable for the subvention certificates issued to charter members. The Irish Echo has obtained a Tara document relating to subvention certificates which states: “If the purchase of the property does not occur for any reason, all or a portion of the funds received upon issuance of the certificates may have been expended, and there may be no funds (or insufficient funds) to be returned to the persons holding the certificates.”

The document also states: “Persons acquiring certificates should understand that they represent a long-term commitment, with no payments thereunder until, at the earliest, 15 years after the date of acquisition of the property, and that the corporation has no ability to know at this time whether the project will be successful or whether there will be funds available in 15 years or at any subsequent time to pay any amount due on the certificates . . . ”

But Rice said that the subvention certificates are still an obligation of Tara Circle. “So Tara has to find some way to find income,” Rice said. He said the best way to do this is to acquire the center in Yonkers, pay for it, and take care of creditors and subvention certificate holders.

Asked if Tara Circle would now consider discussing details of its finances with Irish Echo, Rice said Monday that he would put it to the next charter members’ board meeting whether they should consider opening the figures up to “people other than the charter members.”

It’s nearly five years ago since the Irish Echo first sought details of Tara’s finances. In 1996, the Echo eventually obtained internal unaudited financial information on Tara, although not from any Tara official. An Echo article, published September 1996, stated that in 1993 Tara raised $1 million in six weeks. The following year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 1994, Tara had total management and general expenses of $468, 206. It had total support and revenue of $73,897, leaving an excess of expenses over support and revenue of $394,309. Tara had, according to the figures, a “fund deficiency” of $570,898 at Jan. 1, 1994 and a fund deficiency of $965,207 at Dec. 31, 1994.

On Dec. 31, 1994, according to the figures, Tara had total assets of $212,493. This was made up of $12,493 in cash and $200,000 in a loan receivable. In addition to liabilities, it had subvention certificates payable in the amount of $1,177,700.

For the following six months, from Jan. 1 to June 16, 1995, Tara had total management and general expenses of $66,790. It had total support and revenue of $33,380. Tara had, according to the figures, a fund deficiency of $965,207 at Jan. 1, 1995 and a fund deficiency of $998,617 at June 16, 1995.

On June 16, 1995, Tara had total assets of $209,083. This was made up of $9,083 in cash and the $200,000 in a loan receivable. In relation to liabilities, it had subvention certificates payable in the amount of $1,207,700.

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