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Rossie community center in turmoil

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ROSSIE — The future of the Rossie Youth & Community Center is up in the air as the Town Council grapples with whether to take it over as part of a dispute between two groups seeking control of its fate.

The situation is complicated because the two council members who favor a town takeover are part of the organization that runs the community center.

Their vote would violate the town’s code of ethics, said attorney Charles A. Gardner, who years ago helped incorporate the nonprofit agency that operates the center.

A conflict does not exist because no money would change hands, said Kimberly A. Hutton, president of the community center and a member of the council.

“There’s no money to be made on this,” she said. “It’s all volunteer.”

However, Mr. Gardner said the ethics breach would involve a material gain, regardless of whether a financial transaction takes place.

Even if Mrs. Hutton and fellow board member Harry E. Turnbull vote in favor, a town takeover seems unlikely. The other two council members are opposed and Supervisor Wayne A. Knight would be the deciding vote.

“I personally feel the town can’t afford to take it over, and it’s not in the town’s best interest,” Mr. Knight said.

The town will host a hearing at 7 tonight at the town barn to gauge public opinion, but Mrs. Hutton said she expects the session will focus on criticism of her.

“I’ll be on a whipping board,” she said. “This has been a longtime struggle. I just feel so bullied.”

The community center on County Route 3 was once the Rapids one-room schoolhouse, which closed in the 1940s. The building afterward was turned into a community center.

Bad blood among supporters of the center started in 2008 when Mrs. Hutton became president of the organization.

Mr. Gardner said Mrs. Hutton drove members away, and changed the bylaws illegally along with the name, adding the word “youth.”

Mrs. Hutton said she decided to pursue a town takeover to make the community center more eligible for grant funding.

“I know what it used to be, but look at what it could be,” said Mrs. Hutton, citing the building’s possible use as a food pantry, museum or dog kennel.

If the town does not take it over, Mrs. Hutton said, she would seek dissolution of the nonprofit and transfer the community center to another nonprofit organization, such as Habitat for Humanity or a group that helps wounded veterans.

That is more difficult than it sounds, involving the permission of both state Supreme Court and the state attorney general to transfer the property to a like organization, Mr. Gardner said.

“There’s no reason for the town to take it over, and I don’t believe the town wants it,” he said. “I don’t think a court would approve it.”

In any case, dissolution is not necessary when the center could continue as a community gathering spot, he said.

“We want an easy solution,” he said. “She should resign and turn the books over to the people who want to run it.”

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