Bea Gaddy's charities left in disarray

Her daughters plan to revive, carry on founder's work

Financial records lacking

Everyday services to poor falter, and Thanksgiving nears

October 28, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Along with a legacy as one of Baltimore's most visible advocates for the poor, Bea Gaddy left something else for those who are trying to carry on her work: a charity with a tangle of confusing finances, ill-equipped to function day to day.

Despite saying that she would turn over the reins "to someone else" when she was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1999, Gaddy remained the central force of the organization she founded 16 years ago -- and apparently the only one who knew exactly how things ran.

Last week, two of Gaddy's daughters, Sandra Briggs and Cynthia Campbell, sat at a table in the living room of the North Collington Avenue rowhouse in East Baltimore where the councilwoman lived and her organization was housed, sorting through a sea of manila folders and notebooks marked with their mother's distinctive hand. Dozens of other binders stuffed with paper filled shelves along the walls, and still more folders were fastened to the walls themselves.

Their immediate priority is to organize Gaddy's annual Thanksgiving meal, the first since she died Oct. 3 at age 68. But the daughters are finding that making sense of Gaddy's everyday work may be much more challenging.

"Bea had a way of doing things," says Stanley Scipio, a family friend who has been helping Briggs and Campbell. "She got the job done, but it wasn't the most efficient way of doing it."

Even before her death, while she was being treated for breast cancer, some of Gaddy's charitable operations -- formally called Bea Gaddy's Family Center Inc. -- had been languishing.

The charity's furniture bank on West Baltimore Street, which offers donated household items for the poor, has been largely shuttered for months, open by appointment only to those who have transportation to cart away what they need.

Gaddy's shelter for homeless women and children in the 400 block of N. Chester St. in East Baltimore is in need of repairs and has been mostly empty all year. Occasional occupants stay there to provide security for the building, Campbell says.

And a few weeks before Gaddy's death, the food pantry at her home stopped serving a hot meal in the evening, though it still offers rolls and other donated items to hungry people during the day.

Now, with Thanksgiving around the corner, her daughters are trying to figure out how they can put on a dinner for thousands while trying to resurrect daily services the charity once provided.

Although they have vowed to carry on their mother's work, how much money might be available to do it is unclear -- because Gaddy's recordkeeping was hard for anyone else to understand.

The organization's Form 990 -- the Internal Revenue Service document that would indicate what the charity still has and what it has recently spent -- has not been filed for the year 2000, her daughters say, because Gaddy couldn't afford it. That form was due in May; an extension through August has since expired.

In 1999, according to that year's Form 990, the family center had taken in $110,927 during the calendar year and spent twice as much on its mission. But at the end of the year, the charity still had $513,051 in assets -- mostly in the form of real estate, the form stated.

Briggs and Campbell say the charity now has about $5,000 in the bank, and outstanding utility bills that total much more.

Charities associated with Gaddy owned 19 properties at the time of her death, city land records show, including the Collington Avenue house where she lived. Many of the others are dilapidated rowhouses on half-vacant blocks in East and West Baltimore, several of which have had vacant building notices attached to them by city housing inspectors. Gaddy owned two more houses in her own name, according to the records.

Gaddy's daughters say that, although records show the charity as the legal owner of the properties, their mother gave many of the houses to previously homeless people years ago, hoping to teach them homeownership skills. They say the deeds reflecting those transactions were never properly recorded.

Recordkeeping problems with Gaddy's charity are not new.

After a Sun story raised questions about the state of Gaddy's accounting in 1994, the activist promised to get help with her books. But seven years later, state records show, the charity still had significant problems documenting where its money went.

In a March 2000 letter to officials at the Maryland secretary of state's office, accountant Thomas R. Klein wrote that his Canton firm was working with Gaddy to improve internal controls. The accountant's audit of the charity's 1998 finances had found "many unsupported transactions, unsatisfactory control over cash disbursements and checking accounts, and cash receipts that could not be accurately substantiated."

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