‘Peace And Non-Violence’ Monument Park’s Funding Set To Be Dissolved

Ann Marie McCarthy, James Vassanella, Kimberly Francois, Rajiv Prasad and Phil Kramer at the Oct. 2 Franklin Township Community Foundation trustees meeting.

The group that for the past 10 years has acted as the repository for donations earmarked for a proposed “Peace and Non-Violence” monument park on Oct. 2 took the first steps toward divesting itself of the money, and effectively killing the project.

The Franklin Township Community Foundation is holding more than $79,000 donated to the monument effort. Money was donated to the non-profit foundation so as to provide donors with the ability to deduct their contributions from their taxes.

Four of the group’s five trustees – Mayor Phil Kramer, Township Councilmen James Vassanella and Rajiv Prasad and Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois – met to discuss the fate of the $79,518 in donations.

What began as a discussion of returning $65,000 of that total to the donor who requested it at the Sept. 26 Township Council meeting soon encompassed the remaining $14,000 as well.

What that could mean is that if a proposed “citizen’s committee” to take a fresh look at whether a “peace and non-violence” memorial park is needed and feasible is ever formed, it will also have to figure out how to pay for it.

The evening’s main discussion was over the request of Dr. Naresh Sharma, who contributed the $65,000 in honor of his late wife, and who asked at the Sept. 26 council meeting that his donation to be refunded because, he said, he did not think any new project would be true to the spirit of the one to which he donated.

The foundation trustees decided to honor his request, sort of.

At the beginning of the meeting, Prasad presented the trustees with an invoice for $5,000 from Najarian Associates, the company the created the monument park’s site plan.

“We were talking about refunding money, so I wanted everyone on the foundation to be aware, that this was something that was committed to,” Prasad said of the invoice, which was dated Sept. 28.

Prasad said the council asked for the site plan, and since Najarian had created a concept plan for no charge, “the logical extension” was to go to him for the site plan.

But there was no contract signed nor any proposal offered, leading Kramer to suggest the group go into executive session to discuss the invoice’s legal ramifications.

After their short closed meeting, Prasad said that he would ask Najarian if he would rescind the invoice. The trustees set a two-week time limit, after which, if no written rescission is received, they will turn the matter over to township attorney Louis Rainone.

Once that was decided, Kramer said he had a problem with refunding Sharma’s full $65,000 while the $5,000 bill was pending. He said if it was found that the foundation did have to pay the invoice, it wouldn’t be fair to the other donors to make them pay the whole thing while Sharma would have to pay nothing.

Francois initially did not agree, making a motion that Sharma should be given all of his money back. If the $5,000 invoice was found to be valid, that should be paid by the remaining donors, she said.

“So you don’t think Mr. Sharma should pay any of that,” Kramer asked her.

“I really don’t,” Francois said. “I think that’s a large sum of money that he donated.”

Kramer said he would want to amend her motion to add that Rainone should be consulted on this, because “I’m worried that that is not a legal way to do it.”

Francois then rescinded her motion, and Kramer said that they could give Sharma back $60,912.88 right away. He came to that amount by calculating that Sharma donated about 82 percent of the total, so 82 percent of the $5,000 invoice should be withheld.

The trustees eventually agreed on that course of action.

As far as the remaining $14,518 was concerned, Prasad had a plan for that, too.

Prasad said that he spoke to Upendra Chivukula – the organizer of a dinner 10 years ago during which the money was collected – who suggested that because “the township and the community foundation have no intention of doing a memorial,” and the donors have already deducted their donations from their income taxes, the money should be donated to another non-profit with the same “peace and non-violence” mission as exemplified in the proposed monument park.

Prasad said he found one – the Iselin-based Gandhian Society – whose officials said they “were happy to accept” the donation.

Kramer again said he wanted Rainone to determine whether it would be legal for the foundation to transfer the donations for the monument park to another foundation.

“That memorial had two statues at that time (Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Kr.), and my concern is some people may have favored one image and not the other, or gave the money because of a particular image that might not be recognized by this foundation,” Kramer said.

Vassanella, the foundation’s president, said he thought it was “reasonable” to have Rainone research the question and that “we look to put the funds towards initiatives having to do with peace and non-violence, that we should consider, since MLK was an equal portion of how this was considered, we should consider perhaps an equal amount going toward a foundation based on him and peace and non-violence.”

Prasad said he checked with the Gandhian Society’s attorney, who, he said, told him transferring the money was perfectly legal.

“It is wrong to differentiate between King and Gandhi, they were both believers in peace and non-violence, and they both espoused that cause and they both gave their life for that cause,” he said.

Kramer then changed the discussion’s direction for a short time.

“I think the ramification of this is that Mr. Prasad’s suggestion effectively, practically terminates Franklin Township’s peace and non-violence memorial,” Kramer said. “Not legally, but practically. It brings its funds down to zero.”

“To me, that’s the ramification of this proposal,” he said. “I’m not saying that that’s good or that’s bad, I’m just pointing out that that’s the ramification.”

“The money was raised for a memorial,” Prasad said. “The memorial is not happening. Or, if it does, we don’t know what form, but this was presented to the donors with a specific drawing and a representation, and they gave their money for that purpose.”

“If somebody else wants to take it up and run with it, that’s fine, but the people who donated should get their money back, or the purpose of their donation for peace and non-violence should be fulfilled,” Prasad said. “That is what we’re trying to do here is fulfill that purpose and give it to an organization that will fulfill that purpose of promoting peace and non-violence. That was the purpose of that memorial.”

“They looked at a specific drawing of a memorial and gave money for it,” he said. “Now we’re not building it. Let’s be honest with them and say you gave us this money for this purpose, we have fulfilled that purpose by giving it to an organization” that promotes peace and non-violence.

In the end, the trustees decided to check with Rainone about the legality of transferring the money to another non-profit, while at the same time having Township Clerk Ann Marie McCarthy, who is also the board secretary, begin looking up addresses for the approximately 25 donors.


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