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Sheriff shakes up West Volusia PAL: Chitwood says VCSO can’t afford to subsidize the nonprofit

At left, Sheriff Mike Chitwood. At right, former West Volusia PAL President Rocky Kaiser.

At left, Sheriff Mike Chitwood. At right, former West Volusia PAL President Rocky Kaiser.

BEACON FILE PHOTOS

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Sheriff Mike Chitwood bluntly told the West Volusia Police Athletic League that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office will no longer be affiliated with the nonprofit group, effective May 29.

Chitwood’s two-sentence letter dated April 25 also instructed PAL board members to contact VCSO Director of Juvenile Services Carla Quann to transfer PAL’s files and keys.

The separation has been building since early this year when Chitwood took office, and at first resulted in the resignations of long-standing West Volusia PAL board members, including President Fred “Rocky” Kaiser.

However, some board members, including Kaiser, have since said they will rejoin PAL for the sake of the kids.

The mission of PAL is to provide young people with positive role models and safe activities, as well as helping youths build their self-esteem, while allowing them to get to know officers of the law as friends and mentors.

“This action is a major hit to West Volusia PAL,” Kaiser said, noting that as many as 800 children have been involved at times in PAL.

What will happen to the athletic programs, summer camps, homework help and other activities West Volusia PAL has provided for more than 26 years?

“We are going to continue PAL in West Volusia, but we will be looking for new board members, businesspeople who know how to put on events to raise their own money,” Chitwood said. “I already have two businessmen ready to pledge $100,000. And, I’m meeting with the School Board to find a school to be PAL’s base.”

The sheriff said this self-supporting model is already being followed by PAL groups in Daytona Beach, where he was police chief, and New Smyrna Beach. It was not clear whether Chitwood planned to form a new corporation for West Volusia.

Board member Jim Sieg said the existing West Volusia PAL corporation will carry on.

“We’re not going to die easy,” Sieg said.

The Sheriff’s Office has been supporting PAL by contributing, on average, about $25,000 a year, plus providing personnel paid for by the Sheriff’s Office.

The money to do that came from the sheriff’s forfeiture fund, and that fund is drying up.

“With recent changes in the forfeiture laws, I’m no longer able to continue supporting them like the previous sheriff was able to do,” Chitwood said.

In the past, local law-enforcement agencies were able, with few restrictions, to seize property — including homes, cars, boats, airplanes and cash — if the property had been used in connection with criminal activity. Property could be forfeited even in cases where there were no criminal convictions, or even no arrests.

Some law-enforcement agencies supplemented their budgets heavily with frequent seizures, leading to protests that the crime-fighting tool was being abused. Now the laws have been tightened; there is much less forfeiture money available.

Chitwood said he won’t know until later this year exactly how much his budget will shrink, but the loss comes out of the pot of money that was available for West Volusia PAL.

West Volusia PAL’s 2014 tax return, the most recent available online, shows the organization had revenue of $223,136 that year, expenses of $163,139, and $403,305 in assets.

The sheriff said he is confident he can recruit businesspeople willing to make PAL self-supporting.

“We’re continuing West Volusia PAL, just continuing it under a different mindset,” Chitwood said.

That new mindset clearly upset many on the PAL board, who began resigning at the March board meeting after learning they would be expected to stage fundraisers and solicit contributions. The PAL board has not met with a quorum since March, and has no elected leader at present.

“These are all good people, but they just seemed to think we should just give them money and all they’ll do is just spend it. But it can’t work that way anymore. We need a business-oriented board who understands how to put together events and raise their own money,” Chitwood said, adding that he guided the Daytona Beach PAL through a similar reorganization 11 years ago.

Kaiser reminisced about the early days of West Volusia PAL.

“[Then-Sheriff] Bob Vogel, Art Locke and I were in on the start. We wanted to help the Spring Hill kids. We got an OK from the School Board to refurbish the old Jackson Gym at the Euclid School. Later, we wanted a home, and so we got our activity center built,” Kaiser recalled.

He continued, “Sheriffs Vogel and Ben Johnson contributed everything for our center — all the utilities, even pest control.”

The current sheriff said he is similarly motivated to help young people.

“I want PAL to reach every kid in DeLand from 6 to 18,” Chitwood said. “We’re going to have homework assistance, ACT/SAT preparation help, mentoring, an open gym at nights and sports. … We just need some real business people to step up onto the new board, to help raise the money needed to ensure sustainability. It is all about sustainability. Change is hard. We are moving forward.”

- Rick Butler, info@beacononlinenews.com

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