In a recent guest column, Greg Law, a former YMCA director, chose to put his disappointment of the recent closure of the Clinton County YMCA on paper. In doing so, he left no one out in his belief of why the YMCA failed, or was doomed, for failure beginning over 25 years ago. I wasn’t left out of his disappointment, and as I read his letter, I felt the community needed a better explanation of the role of the county in the last attempts of the YMCA to revive itself.
To begin with, and for the record, the statements made about me and what I may have said, or believe in terms of our community and quality of life issues, were not true; however, I take no offense. I was first introduced to Greg by Chris Chaney around 1993. We were both brand new fathers and had escaped to attend a party. You can’t help but love Greg Law and the Law family. He is passionate about everything he does and believes. It is no doubt he feels personally responsible for the YMCA failure and at the same time let down by his community, one he has been a part of for so long. I understand his disappointment and still consider him a friend and someone I have been blessed to know.
I have early memories of my father taking my brothers and I to the indoor pool and long before I could drive, going on Saturdays to play basketball in one of the gyms. My parents were original donors and the names of those people were/are on the wall behind the main desk. I always took great pride in this. In the mid 1980’s is when the trouble began. The business community was split and I caught the tail end of the debate as I had been away working and just moved back to work in my father’s farm machinery business. Greg is right, it was essentially doomed from the get-go and should never have been added on until it was ironed out, but a lot of people had faith and worked very hard to see their dream become a reality.
Twenty-five years later the YMCA found itself at a crossroads. The place had fallen into disrepair, membership had declined as benefits eroded, and other fitness options existed that had not in the early days. My aunt worked as the accountant and I heard from Greg she was a Godsend in sorting out the dwindling finances and I heard from her that Greg was an equally important asset. The YMCA became the beneficiary of a $500,000 gift from Regional Care Partners as a condition of the hospital selling, probably because at least one of the former CMH Board members was also a YMCA board member. The YMCA burned through the money pretty quickly and probably realized it was like sticking your finger in the hole in the dike. They had recently partnered with the Dayton YMCA out of a suggestion from the National YMCA, to get a viability assessment and provide some management assistance.
After some time, a collaboration of former and current YMCA board members and the Dayton YMCA decided the best course of action was to turn over the operations to the Dayton YMCA organization. However, there was a catch — Dayton would not assume the investment or the risk and they wanted a new facility, so like many have done before and since, they turned to the county commissioners to make a case for funds. They needed several million dollars of the hospital sale proceeds to build a brand new YMCA. This came with a very well-done presentation and a 45-day deadline or they would close forever. It is rare anyone would take those kinds of demands on public or private money very serious, so it speaks to the clout of the presenters they received any consideration at all. This request came with literally no supporting documents and much of it hinged on supposed partnerships of Regional Care, Southern State Community College, the Dayton YMCA, the former CMH Board and the former CMH Foundation.
Myself, the county administrator and the assistant county prosecutor were assigned the task by the commissioners of gathering the facts as quickly as possible. We met with the local YMCA right out of the gate and told them if they needed several million dollars from the county in order to avoid closing at the end of the month then they should prepare for closure. We forwarded them a list of questions to fill in the blanks and clarify some of the points. This led to meetings or discussions with NB&T, their mortgage holder, Wilmington College, Southern State, CMH, the Dayton YMCA, and board members of the local partnering foundations and boards. This led to another round of questions which included financial documents and an eventual report to the commissioners.
Our task was not to give an opinion or solve the YMCA’s problem just report the facts on behalf of the citizens of Clinton County. It would take a few more columns to tell what we learned, but in short we found two very glaring revelations. First, the Dayton YMCA organization was going to take title to everything and we needed to pay for it upfront with no debt to them. Additionally they would not provide any guarantees they would remain open if they could not make a go of it past the first year.
The second and most important was the revelation that all of the majority “partners” were not signed up and not likely to, therefore the presentation had been a misrepresentation of their intentions. I would prefer to believe the YMCA supporters got caught up in what they wanted to hear instead of what was actually said. I can’t speak to the other interactions and communications Greg refers to but I will confirm that when things started looking bad for their proposal, Geoff Phillips a former YMCA board member had approached one of the commissioners with a “deal” of paying off the YMCA mortgage to NB&T and he would make their “political problems go away.” No one took that serious and I still have no idea what that was about, but it speaks to the insanity of that time period.
In the end, it fell apart on its own. None of the presented partnerships actually existed, the Dayton YMCA wanted Clinton County to give them a new YMCA and eventually its leadership changed and the new leadership saw more risk than they were willing to assume at any level. This one last ditch proposal, did provide the community with a lot of discussion, not always done in a healthy manner, but one that could lay the foundation for things to come.
There is an old saying that sometimes the things you think really want and don’t get are the best blessings. As we begin a new chapter in many things Clinton County, I am confident we will all continue to see new and better blessings and in the end, a better quality of life for everyone.
Bret Dixon is Clinton County Economic and Business Development Director.