Thursday, June 20, 2013
Finley Place not to be sold
By SUE WATSON
One positive outcome of recent discussions between the Strawberry Plains advisory board and National Audubon representatives is that Finley Place will not be sold, said board member Scott Beggs.
He said progress was made on getting problems aired out with officials at the national office.
“There was progress made,” Beggs said. “The sale of Finley House is off.”
He said income from the Finley trust, left to Audubon by the late Ruth Finley, will help fund the short-term needs at the Mississippi Audubon state office. Long-term, the trust monies will all go to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, he said.
“That’s a major victory,” Beggs said.
A third positive outcome of the meeting was that the general counsel for National Audubon, Lorraine Sciarra, will be actively involved to seek a permanent solution to concerns about the Shackelford Trust, he said.
“The good news coming from the top is that National will resolve it,” he said. “We want to move forward and try to get some momentum, here. The meeting was a major victory for the Holly Springs community and Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. All the things that unite us are so much greater than those things that divide us.”
Advisory board member Jorja Lynn was also optimistic that recent hard feelings in the community over the firing of center director Bubba Hubbard would be resolved. The issue brought up questions about the stability of support for the center financially after state director Jay Woods said he let Hubbard go because of inadequate funding. The community questioned where the money the late Margaret Shackelford left in a trust was being spent and how the trust was being managed.
That was followed by a community meeting week before last, the evening prior to a June 7 meeting of the SPAC advisory board with National Audubon officials Sciarra, Mississippi Flyway director Chris Canfield and Woods.
“What started this, I told Jay Woods and the board, is that by his firing Bubba Hubbard, it opened Pandora’s box,” Lynn said. “Everything had gone along smoothly and everybody in the community came together and wanted to make sure it (Strawberry Plains center) continued.”
Lynn said the officials at the top at National Audubon were “not aware of all the minutia that goes on down here.
“They felt they had to listen to us because of the magnitude of the gift (Strawberry Plains properties and trust funds) and because it is located in a regional watershed.”
The state office was housed in Holly Springs in the beginning because of the gift of the 3,000-acre property known as Strawberry Plains to the Audubon Society and because of trust funds left to guarantee the perpetuation of the center for conservation and education.
The state office was housed in Holly Springs until Woods was hired as state director, she said. Lynn said that $150,000 a year from the Finley Trust goes to pay for expenses at the state director’s office.
She said a four-hour meeting with the advisory board and officials with Audubon was very cordial.
“They were very receptive, listened, took notes,” she said. “I think they understood the importance of education at Strawberry Plains and of the hands-on education and direct contact with nature that the center offers.”
Lynn added that an email campaign from the community to National Audubon president David Yarnold was what broke the log-jam. He sent top people because he was bombarded with so many emails, Lynn said.
Wanda Hairston of Hudsonville, an advisory board member, said the dialogue between the community, the advisory board and Audubon representatives was a very positive experience because all the ideas, issues and concerns were aired.
“We came away with a good commitment from both sides to resolve these issues,” she said. “I think Audubon came because the community expressed concern so openly that we care about Strawberry Plains. I think Audubon understands what the sisters wanted. I hope the community feels really good about bringing the issues to light.”
Hairston said she heard both Canfield and Sciarra say Audubon is committed to keeping the center open and to expanding its impact in the region. They said they will work to resolve financial issues – both on the short and long term.
“We live on that trust money and are concerned for the future,” Hairston said.
Strawberry Plains needs community support to help continue the work, she said.
“I got it that the community cares and that the advisory board cares,” she said. “The advisory board has incredible talent. We know we have community support. There is no way we can’t make it.
“It’s been the perfect storm, the best perfect storm. It really has solidified (support for the center).”
Sciarra said those at Audubon “have a clear and personal sense of how important Strawberry Plains Audubon Center is to the Holly Springs community.”
She said she was moved to see and hear the depth of community interest in Strawberry Plains and its connection to the Finley sisters, on a recent visit.
Of her recent meeting with the SPAC advisory board, Sciarra said, “I’m grateful to use my specific legal expertise and experience with endowments and trusts to support such a worthy cause. It is a privilege to be able to do my part in helping to secure the future of Strawberry Plains. At every level, Audubon remains fully committed to Strawberry Plains and the community. We know we have a bright future together.”
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