A regional Salvation Army official said Friday he could not immediately “open the gates” to spending a man’s $623,000 bequest to the organization made years ago to benefit the Butte area.
“I do not have the authority to just release large amounts of those funds and say we will do something tomorrow,” Maj. Richard Pease, a divisional secretary for the Salvation Army in Denver, said at a meeting with city officials, social services advocates, and others.
But Pease apologized for the Salvation Army’s scant presence in Butte over the past decade and pledged that the organization will be more active, mend fences, and start repairing its image here.
“I am not proud or thrilled by the way we have mismanaged our operations in Butte over the last nine years,” he said. Those operations now are a currently closed thrift store and one part-time employee.
Friday’s meeting at the county Health Department was prompted by Brian Garrett, who has tried for years to free up a $623,612 gift his friend Burton Kinyon made to the Salvation Army in his will.
Kinyon, who died in 2010, was a savvy investor who lived many of his 86 years in Butte. He bequeathed $1.86 million divided equally among three causes — the Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane, Washington; Camp Mak-A-Dream; and the Salvation Army.
The only directive he gave the Salvation Army was that its portion be given “for use in the Butte, Montana area.”
But the funds have been controlled completely by a regional Salvation Army office in Denver, even though a letter from a law firm representing the estate specified that the bequest was to be managed by a local board.
The local board quit meeting in 2012, and despite efforts by Garrett and his late friend Joe Shoemaker to get more of the money spent in Butte to help the homeless and back other causes, the Salvation Army has only spent interest on the gift.
The Montana Standard wrote about the dispute this past January, but besides a recent conversation between Garrett, the Salvation Army, and the Montana Attorney General’s Office, nothing new has been done.
Pease agreed to meet with Garrett on Friday, and several others took part, including religious and social services advocates for the poor, county officials, and Sheriff Ed Lester.
Garrett said the gift was a “big chunk of money” and more of it should be spent to benefit needy people in Butte.
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“We kind of wanted to start fresh,” he told Pease.
Although the Salvation Army’s presence in Butte had dwindled in recent years, Pease said, it still raises money here and helps about six to 12 people each month pay their rent or utility bills.
It still owns a building in Uptown Butte, he said, although it has been vacant and on the market for eight or nine years now.
Pease said the organization often puts large donations into investments and trust funds and only spends the interest, thereby ensuring long-term use of the money.
He said the Salvation Army, like many businesses and organizations, took hits during the most recent deep recession, and Kinyon’s gift was part of a portfolio that lost money. But money was taken from other sources to make it whole again, he said, and it provides interest revenue of about 4.5 percent.
Sister Mary Jo McDonald, who has assisted in efforts to feed the homeless in Butte, said 4.5 percent of Kinyon’s gift was about $27,000. She called that a “pittance.”
“The needs in this community are more than four-and-a-half percent,” she said. "I think Mr. Kinyon would be very disappointed."
Butte needs a “warming shelter” to get homeless people out of the cold during the day, she said, and others noted that Butte is without any kind of shelter and will remain so until the Butte Rescue Mission opens one in the coming months.
Pease said it might be possible to provide some immediate money for hotel vouchers for the homeless and the Community Café in Uptown, which provides free meals to the needy.
But he made no specific promises, saying he first needed to meet with Salvation Army volunteers in Butte on Saturday and then with officials in the Denver office.
Hopefully, he said, they will come up with a strategy for enhancing the Salvation Army’s presence in Butte and providing both short-term and long-term value to the community.
“I made that (same) commitment to the Attorney General’s Office, and I am sure they will hold my feet to the fire,” he said.