Complaint against Battle of Franklin trust brings state probe
Sons of Confederate Veterans allege financial abuses
May 24, 2013
FRANKLIN — Allegations of financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest and other complaints by the Sons of Confederate Veterans have prompted the state Attorney General’s Office to request the financial records of the Battle of Franklin Trust, the nonprofit that operates Franklin’s two best-known Civil War museums.
The investigation comes after the Columbia, Tenn.-based Confederate heritage group raised questions last fall about the financial operation of the Carter House and Carnton Plantation by the Battle of Franklin Trust, the 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation that manages the museums.
After the Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a press release about the investigation, Battle of Franklin Trust Chief Operating Officer Eric Jacobson confirmed that the trust was asked in April by the Attorney General’s Office to supply financial records about the trust’s operation of the Carter House and Carnton Plantation. State officials declined to comment specifically about the matter.
“Since the others have essentially confirmed an investigation, it’s fairly obvious,” said Sharon Curtis-Flair in a statement from the Attorney General’s Office. “We, however, cannot comment on any specifics regarding such.”
Eight months after making their complaint known, SCV officials reaffirmed their misgivings about the trust and sharpened their criticisms by calling for the resignation of Robert Hicks, trust board member and author of the novel “The Widow of the South,” who they contend is hindering the state’s investigation.
“Tennesseans have a right to know that their historic properties are being properly managed and their funds properly accounted for, and the attorney general has a right to any information that might shed light on any alleged impropriety,” Gene Hogan, the SCV’s national heritage chairman, said in a statement.
Last fall, trust officials denied the group’s allegations when they came to light. Marianne Schroer, trust chairwoman, said the trust is cooperating with the investigation and called for greater respect of the Battle of Franklin Trust by the SCV.
“We would hope that the SCV would respect our board and our decisions as we respect their board and their decisions,” Schroer said in a statement. “We have fully cooperated with the Attorney General’s investigation that was spurred by the SCV.”
Use of funds questioned
The Tennessean had requested a copy of its complaint last year, but the SCV did not respond.
But the complaint, released by the state Attorney General’s Office, lists a range of allegations that the SCV wants examined, including whether the trust is using money collected from the Carter House, which is owned by the state, to pay off a mortgage on the Fleming Center, which is held by Carnton Plantation, a privately owned historic site.
“We believe that the use of funds generated by Carter House for purposes other than Carter House or to pay joint management expenses violates state law,” wrote Randy P. Lucas, the SCV’s attorney.
Trust officials last year said Carnton Plantation generates enough revenue on its own to cover the mortgage expenses. As of last October, the trust said the Fleming Center’s loan was $200,000 and they expected it would be fully paid off by next May.
The SCV also raised allegations about potential conflicts of interest relating to the future use of the old Optimist Gym property, which is also owned by the state.
Museum idea on hold
Supporters wanted to create a Battle of Franklin interpretive center/museum where the gymnasium stands adjacent to the Carter House. Though it’s been discussed since 2007, no work on the museum has occurred even though a $1.2 million state grant has been set aside for the project.
Last year, Battle of Franklin Trust officials proposed transferring ownership of the state-owned gym property to the trust to help make fundraising easier, which would require legislation to be created and ultimately approved by the state historical commission.
The trust withdrew a request earlier this year to have the commission consider approving the transfer.
In its complaint, the SCV also alleged that Marianne Schroer, who is married to state Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, asked Gov. Bill Haslam to give the property to the trust. In an interview last year, Marianne Schroer said she met with Haslam but said Haslam gave her no assurances and she did not ask a favor from Haslam to support the transfer of the gym’s ownership.
The SCV also raised questions about J.T. Thompson, the executive director of the Lotz House museum, which sits near the gymnasium and the Carter House property. The SCV contends that Thompson may have a conflict of interest because building a museum across Columbia Avenue from the Lotz House “would be a financial boon” to him.
In a statement, Thompson said he was shocked by the SCV’s request for an investigation and the alleged conflict of interest.
“Not once in the 4½ years we’ve been opened has the SCV ever approached me about anything, let alone any alleged conflict of interest,” Thompson said. “Nonetheless, we are cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s Office and look forward to their final report.”
Group targets author Hicks
Hogan also called for the resignation of Robert Hicks from the trust’s board because of an email that Hicks sent Jacobson, which was forwarded to the SCV.
Hicks offers encouragement to Jacobson while criticizing the SCV in the email, which was sent as part of the SCV’s press release.
“I don’t believe that the dark forces behind this complaint to the AG care,” Hicks wrote. “They simply want to cause trouble, confusion and chaos. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing who give lip service to our values — Southern values — but who are the antithesis of Southern values.”
Noting that Hicks also calls the SCV “scum” and “losers,” Hogan claimed Hicks’ email was “a thinly veiled threat against any board member” who might cooperate in the investigation.
“Because Robert Hicks’ main goal seems to be in keeping the attorney general from finding a ‘smoking gun,’ the SCV requests that Mr. Hicks immediately resign from any boards affiliated with Carnton Plantation, the Carter House or Battle of Franklin Trust,” Hicks said. “If he refuses to resign, we call upon the respective boards to demand his departure, the public good requiring it.”
Hicks could not be reached for comment.
“Contrary to the SCV’s accusations, our board members have not in any way made any attempt to hamper or stop the AG’s office from performing its due diligence,” Marianne Schroer said. “We eagerly anticipate their findings.”
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