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College of Marin Foundation still on shaky ground

click to enlarge WHO BENEFITS? The mismanaged College of Marin Foundation currently has no permanent executive director.
  • WHO BENEFITS? The mismanaged College of Marin Foundation currently has no permanent executive director.

The College of Marin Foundation has had its share of turmoil in the last six months: an abrupt exit by a longtime executive director, a replacement who lasted just two months, a pending lawsuit, an exodus of staff members, allegations of financial mismanagement and a dispute between the foundation and college over $1.8 million.

But both the college and the foundation say they're moving forward now with audits to get to the bottom of any financial issues and are working together to serve the students.

"They're doing their due diligence," says College of Marin president David Wain Coon of the foundation. "They've expressed an interest in cooperation."

Issues came to a head when Margaret Elliott, who was the College of Marin Foundation executive director for 19 years, stepped down in February after writing the foundation board a letter last fall decrying the "toxic atmosphere" that had been created. Her letter was accompanied by a letter from then-foundation secretary Nancy Faw, who said the board had become divided and was undermining the work of the staff.

Concerns were also raised by staff about unauthorized expenditures and poorly budgeted funds.

When Elliott left after negotiating a $40,000 severance, Faw and a part-time clerk also quit. Two fundraisers were reportedly fired. Bookkeeper Daniel Shiner then left less than a month later, after outlining a number of concerns about the financial management of the foundation.

"I had great trepidation about the direction the foundation was going," says Shiner.

His concerns included legal fees of close to $100,000, the allocation of $500,000 from restricted funds to cover administrative costs, checks that were unaccounted for, a missing cash withdrawal and even an office space rented off-campus that foundation staff wasn't informed about.

For the last two decades, Shiner was paid $1,000 per month to manage the books for the foundation and for about 200 different program funds. The foundation, which is a nonprofit organization separate from the college that provides grants and scholarships, brings in about $1 million in revenue annually and received clean audits every year.

"I had the books in perfect shape when I left," says Shiner.

After being ejected from an April foundation board meeting, College of Marin board student trustee Raemond Bergstrom-Wood began an inquiry into many of those same issues. His written inquiry, which brought the problems to public attention, listed a number of questions: how much did the foundation spend on legal fees, why was an unused office space being rented, why did it appear in the foundation meeting minutes that the board was trying to avoid an audit and why was "half a million dollars . . . being liquidated to cover administrative costs for a foundation that raises less than $65,000 per annum"?

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