Old Per­li­can Lions learn from ex­pe­ri­ence

Club mov­ing for­ward after em­bez­zle­ment case set­tled

The Compass - - NEWS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Lessons learned

A decision by the Bac­calieu Lions Club in Old Per­li­can to pur­sue em­bez­zle­ment charges against a for­mer long­time mem­ber was not about get­ting its money back.

It was about gain­ing back trust of the pub­lic.

In Au­gust, guilty pleas were en­tered on be­half of for­mer Lion Joseph Rice on one count of theft over $5,000.

As a re­sult, the 69-year-old Rice was given four months house ar­rest and or­dered to pay back resti­tu­tion. That amount is un­known.

The charges date back to Fe­bru­ary 2014. Ef­forts were made to re­trieve the money be­fore in­volv­ing the au­thor­i­ties, but they were un­suc­cess­ful.

“We were more con­cerned with the guilty plea and not the money,” said club trea­surer Dave Foote. “The plea was im­por­tant.”

For the Bac­calieu club, the plea had a stronger mes­sage to the peo­ple who support the club. “It is pub­lic’s money,” said Foote. The ex­act amount of money taken is not known, but it is be­lieved to be a sub­stan­tial amount of money.

Hav­ing a for­mer mem­ber dip­ping into a ser­vice club’s cof­fers might serve as the death knell for that club. It can cause mem­bers to frag­ment un­der the stress of deal­ing with un­paid bills and a grow­ing dis­trust in the pop­u­lace.

Not the Old Per­li­can club, how­ever. It had the op­po­site af­fect.

“It gal­va­nized the club,” said past pres­i­dent Carl Hop­kins.

While some mem­bers chipped in their own money to help cover costs, oth­ers helped in dif­fer­ent ways. They dou­bled their ef­forts in the com­mu­nity and pushed to con­tinue their usual work.

The Old Per­li­can-based club is widely re­garded as one of the strong­est ser­vice clubs in east­ern New­found­land, hav­ing do­nated some $350,000 to char­ity since it was founded 26 years ago.

Since the in­ci­dent, the Bac­calieu Lions Club has do­nated some $50,000 to com­mu­nity groups in the re­gion.

“It was a team ef­fort,” said Foote. “We kept up our stan­dards.”

“There was a love for the club,” added Hop­kins.

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It has been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the club, ac­cord­ing to Foote.

Ev­ery ex­pense is ac­counted for and ev­ery nickel is tracked. Fi­nan­cial state­ments are avail­able to any of the 35 mem­bers at any meet­ing. That is some­thing they strug­gled with in the past.

“We’re more de­tailed, more care­ful,” said Foote.

In a lengthy dis­cus­sion with The Com­pass, Foote and Hop­kins noted the club made a push to be­come more ac­count­able to the pub­lic it serves.

As a re­sult of this ex­pe­ri­ence, mem­bers of the club have been asked to speak at provin­cial con­fer­ences about their or­deal and how they con­tin­ued to push for­ward.

“Since then, there have been two or three clubs make sim­i­lar moves,” said Hop­kins.

The Old Per­li­can club is, at present, stronger than ever.

While there have been mem­bers lost through death or cir­cum­stance, the club has added a dozen new mem­bers and is look­ing at four new ar­rivals in the New Year. That would push the club’s roster to 39 mem­bers.

A project is un­der­way at the Old Per­li­can build­ing to make its bath­rooms more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

“We’ve re­cov­ered and its like day and night,” said Hop­kins.

Com­pass file photo

The Bac­claieu Lions Club has re­cov­ered fol­low­ing an in­ci­dent that saw a for­mer club mem­ber steal thou­sands of dol­lars from it.

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