Citizens for Historic Preservation, an organization based in Fort Mill, has been operating in violation of the Solicitation Charitable Funds Act, according to state officials.
The law requires nonprofit organizations to register with the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office’s Charities Division and file an annual financial report, said Shannon Wiley, deputy counsel for the Secretary of State’s office.
Based on Main Street in Fort Mill, Citizens for Historic Preservation says it is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving historic resources in North and South Carolina, said Louis Roman, executive director. The organization’s immediate goal, he said, is to revitalize Main Street and preserve the history and culture of Fort Mill and elsewhere in York County.
Roman, who said he relocated to Fort Mill from Orlando, Fla., eight years ago, said he was not aware of the violation and that Citizens for Historic Preservation will file the proper paperwork needed to comply with state law.
The organization filed Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State Office’s Corporations Division on Nov 1, 2012, and selected Charitable as its purpose, said Renee Daggerhart, media relations director and executive assistant with the Secretary of State’s Office. However, Articles of Incorporation are filed for the purpose of forming the nonprofit corporation itself, Wiley said. Nonprofits and other organizations that solicit charitable contributions in South Carolina must also register with the Secretary of State’s Division of Public Charities on an annual basis, she said.
The organization held its first fundraising event on April 19, 2013, but took a hiatus before recently re-starting its efforts to help fund preservation projects, Roman said.
Any fundraising done prior to registering as a charity could be considered a deceptive practice, Wiley said. The law is intended to help donors make an informed choice.
“This provides transparency into the organizations’ activities for the benefit of the public,” Wiley said. “The Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act also prohibits misrepresentation and requires that specific disclosures be made to potential donors.”
Wiley said the Securities Office will send Citizens for Historic Preservation a Notice of Violation and the organization will have 15 days from receipt of the notice to respond and register with the Charities Division or face a fine of up to $2,000.
Wiley said Roman called the office and was told how to comply.
When Citizens for Historic Preservation registers with the Charities Division, it will need to include a financial report from 2013 since it held a fundraising event that year, Wiley said.
Roman said the organization also applied for federal tax exempt status this month.
On Aug. 1, CFHP held its inaugural First Friday Fort Mill, its new fundraising event that features food trucks and music at Walter Y. Elisha Park. Fort Mill Town Council approved the group’s use of the park at a July 28 meeting. Town officials said they processed the organization’s request for use of the park as they would any other.
“Any (large) special event occurring within a town park is required to fill out a special events form,” said Maj. Bryan Zachary, the Fort Mill Police Department’s public information officer.
Depending on how many people are expected and other factors, the town could require police presence. Council did require police for First Friday, where alcohol was served, and off-duty Fort Mill officers worked the event and were paid by the organization, Zachary and other town officials said. They declined to disclose how much officers were paid.
Town officials were mostly silent when asked about allowing a group that wasn’t properly registered to hold an event in which admission was free, but participants had to purchase bags of tokens for $10 or $20 from Market Style Media, a Fort Mill company owned by Roman and his wife Tracey Roman, to pay for food and drinks.
Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk did not return a voice message left for him Friday asking him to comment and Town Councilman Ronnie Helms declined to comment when asked about CFHP after an Aug. 11 council meeting. Later, town spokeswoman Kimberly Starnes issued a blanket statement via email saying no town officials would answer questions about the town’s involvement with the organization.
Town Councilman Tom Adams commented in a phone interview. He said he wasn’t aware of CFHP’s status before voting to approve its use of the park, but that Council wouldn’t typically research that information.
“They are fine folks and are great citizens stepping forward in helping the town,” Adams said. “They aren’t doing anything we would want to discourage.”
Conflict of interest?
Without financial statements to review, there’s no way to track the money collected. According to a website for First Friday, participants purchase tokens online to use at vendor stations.
“Your credit card will be charged for this event by Market Style Media, who is collecting the funds on behalf of First Friday Fort Mill & Citizens For Historic Preservation,” the website states.
Louis Roman, who was interviewed in person, by phone and via email, would not answer questions regarding any possible conflicts of interest. He ended a phone conversation Friday with the promise to call back and answer more questions, but never did.
Roman said Market Style Media, a publishing company where he is the business developer and Tracey Roman is the creative director, is based at 118 Main St. and leases the building from Citizens for Historic Preservation, which covers the mortgage for CFHP, Roman said. Market Style Media publishes Fort Mill Magazine, one of the sponsors of First Friday Fort Mill.
Louis Roman also is chairman of the Historic Review Board for the town of Fort Mill and both Louis and Tracey Roman are on the Fort Mill Economic Council Board, a nonprofit created to help drive business downtown.
Adams said he doesn’t consider their involvement a conflict of interest because it’s typical “for a small town.”
Citizens for Historic Preservation, Louis Roman said, focuses on preserving historic properties throughout the Carolinas. He said the main focus right now is on Fort Mill’s historic Main Street. He said he feels Southern towns are notorious for not preserving historical structures.
“Once they are gone, they are gone forever,” he said. “This came out of a need to go after historical structures that are in peril.”
The first one he said he is targeting is 118 Main St. – the building owned by his organization and leased to his company. He said he wants to restore the building’s original facade and CFHP needs to raise money to finish paying off the mortgage and complete architectural changes.
Adams said since many of the properties on Main Street are privately owned, CFHP either has to purchase buildings to restore them or raise funds to assist the owners with their historic properties.
“A lot of them are suffering,” he said. “There is still a desire for that type of environment.”
According to Louis Roman, the group also wants to do a genealogical study on all the buildings on Main Street, many of which fall under the Fort Mill Downtown Historic District to determine their historical significance, he said.
Fundraising efforts, he said, will help the group complete genealogical studies and assist owners in determining the historical significance of their properties and applying for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
“That’s the kind of jewels we look for,” Roman said. “It’s definitely a real need.”
Citizens for Historic Preservation established a Keystone Society for families that wish to donate part of their estate to the group, Roman said.
“It’s a way of immortalizing the family name,” he said.
Roman said CFHP usually looks for historical properties that have architectural and historical significance to the community. The group works with owners to help them determine how to restore and/or maintain their property, he said.
Roman said another goal is to work with the school system to eventually establish an educational component for students to Citizens for Historic Preservation.
“We want to bring history books to life,” he said.