GARDINER — When the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner posted a social media entry endorsing a Gardiner city council candidate in the recent election, it caught Matthew Marshall’s attention.

Marshall was one of seven candidates to run for the three at-large seats, and he spent the weeks in the run-up to the election knocking on doors citywide and meeting voters.

When the votes were tallied, Marshall came in fourth with 997 votes, just 96 votes behind Maryann White, the candidate the club had endorsed, who earned 1,093 votes.

“It’s not sour grapes,” Marshall said.

It is, he said, concern that a non-profit agency that receives about $51,000 a year from the city of Gardiner is jeopardizing its non-profit status to endorse a candidate.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner offers recreational sports and educational programs for children and teens, child care for Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randolph and Pittston and senior programs. In lieu of having its own youth programs, the city supports the club.

Its building at 14 Pray St. is also Gardiner’s polling place.

Under the IRS code, nonprofits organized under section 501 (c) 3 are not allowed to participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

The Oct. 25 post, which has since been removed from the club’s Facebook page, reposted White’s politician page with this message: “Great supporter of Club programs! She is a mom, teacher, mentor, volunteer and committed to a positive future for our wonderful little City of Gardiner! Maryann White has my vote for City Council!”

Marshall said White had also left brochures at the club.

When Marshall brought his concerns to club director Ingrid Stanchfield a week after the election, she responded by email that she had set up a meeting with herself, board Chairman Mark Roberts and board Clerk John Bobrowiecki for Nov. 30 to speak with Marshall.

That meeting never took place.

When Marshall asked for an earlier meeting and indicated he wanted to invite two other candidates, At-Large City Councilor Maureen Blanchard and George Trask, he said the meeting was canceled. Both Blanchard and Trask have been vocal about the annual support the Gardiner City Council gives to nonprofits, including the Boys and Girls Club. Blanchard has questioned the level of support that Gardiner gives compared to what the other communities give, and Trask has said because the city makes this donation, taxpayers have no choice but to support the club. He would prefer the decision to donate be left to individual city residents. Both were unsuccessful in their election bids.

Instead, Marshall received a letter from Boys and Girls Club board Chairman Mark Roberts.

In the letter, Roberts acknowledged that statements made on the club’s social media should not be political.

“There was an isolated violation of our policy. Due to the nature of this matter, I feel it is an internal personnel issue and therefore will not be setting a meeting to discuss the issue further. We are confident this will not happen again,” he wrote.

The response left Marshall unsatisfied.

“I just wanted to look at them, eye-to-eye, and hear them admit they made a mistake,” he said.

White declined comment.

Stanchfield did not respond to a request for comment.

Roberts on Friday said as soon as the endorsement post was brought to the attention of club employees, it was taken down. He said he didn’t know how long it had been up.

“It’s an internal matter,” he said. “We have taken care of the issue by education and by explaining the repercussions of posting (political endorsements) on the club’s social media site.”

As for the brochures, he said, as he did in his letter to Marshall, that any candidate who asked could have left brochures at the club, but only one candidate asked. They were removed three days before the election.

“Going forth, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

With the good the club does for Gardiner-area children, Roberts said he hopes the incident doesn’t damage the club’s reputation.

“The positive far outweighs posting on social media one time. We support senior citizens and thousands of kids,” he said. “I can’t see something this minor swaying anyone from community or deviating from our mission.”

Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said the city provides funding for the club, but that’s the extent of the city’s involvement.

“Our involvement with the club is that we provide financial support,” he said. “Whatever allegations there are don’t really affect that.”

Mayor Thom Harnett said the matter is a dispute between a candidate and a non-profit, and it is not a city issue.

Marshall, who said he supports the work of the Boys and Girls Club, said he hopes its non-profit status is not jeopardized. At the same time, he hopes club officials will conduct a top-down review of the organization and its activities.

“They need to make sure everyone is aware of the rules and they need to abide by them,” he said. “They need to be less involved in city politics and more involved in the club. If I had been elected, I would be telling them the same thing — you can’t do it.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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