Bluffton dog park group replaces board, vows to build park in a year

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 6, 2013 

The Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks has installed five new board members, replacing almost all of its previous leadership after fraud allegations and the suicide of its former president.

The new board members include president Cheryl Raugh, vice president Deborah Karambelas, treasurer Carl Brinkman and secretary Debbie Szpanka. Also, Diana Radcliffe was added as a board member.

"We wanted to give the organization some new fresh blood," Raugh said. "The past board members all worked very hard and all are still energized to help us reach our goal, but it was time for a changing of the guard."

The previous board decided to step down after former president William Grooms was charged in June with allegedly taking about $19,000 from the group, said former board member Abby Bird.

Grooms committed suicide in July. His wife, Amanda Mitchell-Grooms, also has been charged with accessory after the fact and awaits a grand jury to decide if her case will go to trial. The group hired a lawyer to see if any assets could be claimed from the Groomses to recoup some of the group's money, but the lawyer determined there were no assets, Bumgardner said.

"We felt there was a credibility issue for the community with the old board, and it was justified, as there was not enough oversight," Bird said. "In order to move forward, we needed to put the past behind us."

Although the board still needs about $38,000 to build the dog park, Raugh said the new board hopes to have it built within a year.

Charles Bumgardner, who became president after Grooms' departure, was the only board member not to step down. He nominated the new group as board members and thought he would stay as president. However, Brinkman made a motion to make Raugh president and reduce Bumgardner's role to board member.

Bumgardner said the change happened quickly, and he and others were surprised. He resigned from the board after the meeting.

"I have apparently not done enough to get the trust or approval of the board and it seems communication, tact or professionalism is not a requirement to be on the board," he said in a resignation letter emailed to the board.

Raugh said the new board seeks volunteers to fill two remaining seats.

Bird said she is confident the new board will open the park within a year. The group has about $1,200 and needs about $40,000 to build the park off Buckwalter Parkway.

Raugh said the fundraising drive will include corporate sponsorships, neighborhood and plantation captains who will host dinners and parties, media inserts, and the group's annual Bark in the Park event this October.

The new board also is changing its bylaws to include financial safeguards, and it has opened a new bank account with First Federal, Raugh said.

She added that it is unfortunate the way the group has come into the spotlight, but there is now more community support.

Bird agrees. She said that when the group started five years ago, only about three people would come to meetings. Recently, more than 50 have been attending.

"A year from now, we will be in the new dog park having a ribbon-cutting ceremony," Bird said. "I'm sure of it."

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