Finizio OKs resumption of Wheadon Fund activities

New London - The mayor has signed off on nearly $24,000 from the Wheadon Fund for senior programs this year after the city attorney advised him that the committee that keeps track of the money is operating appropriately.

"... (I)t is my opinion that the Committee overseeing the Wheadon Funds may validly continue to do so, and programs and services may continue uninterrupted," attorney Jeffrey Londregan said in a Jan. 10 memo to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.

About $20,000 will be spent this year on ceramics, county and western dance lessons, yoga, tai chi, sewing/quilting and health and wellness programs. Another $3,000 will be set aside for an aquacize program, yet to be scheduled.

In light of Londregan's memo and "as long as the money from the fund is being spent on seniors,'' Finizio said, he will continue to sign the checks.

In January, Finizio froze the Wheadon Fund after resident Cecilia Baxter raised concerns about how the fund was being managed.

The fund was established in 2001 under the will of New London resident Jane Wheadon, who died in 2000 at age 86, leaving $720,000 to the city for seniors. At the time, New London Probate Judge Mathew Greene helped set up the committee that oversees the fund. Over the years, he has occasionally advised the committee when asked, and most recently held a hearing in May 2012, based in part on Baxter's complaint of mismanagement. Greene found no mismanagement of funds.

Baxter filed a judicial misconduct complaint against Greene after that hearing, but the Connecticut Council on Probate Judicial Conduct found no probable cause for a finding of judicial misconduct. It did, however, say the probate court's jurisdiction over the funds ended in 2002 and recommended the probate court cease all activity regarding Wheadon's bequest.

"Although Judge Greene acted with the best intentions, the Council finds that his initiation of judicial proceedings, nine years after the Wheadon estate was closed, was well beyond his limited jurisdiction as a Probate judge,'' wrote William Lavery, chairman of the council.

Greene said he stayed involved after the estate closed because the city asked him to in order to help protect the money for the seniors and not have it go into the city's General Fund.

"My involvement was not self-perpetuated in any way,'' he said. He is no longer involved with fund.

Londregan reviewed the probate judicial conduct council's decision at the mayor's request and advised the mayor that the committee "did not opine or rule that the Committee established by the Probate Court in 2001, was incorrectly established." Londregan said he will further review the transcript of the council's hearing but that seniors "should not be harmed or penalized by having these funds frozen."

There is about $650,000 in the fund, according to the city's finance director.

Baxter said she has also contacted the state Office of the Attorney General, which has jurisdiction over such accounts.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said this week the office is aware of the Wheadon Fund issue and has asked the city for information on the account.

"Once we receive a copy of their review, we will evaluate it and see if further action is needed,'' said Jacklyn Falkowski.

Finizio confirmed the AG's office contacted his office last week.

"We have not heard anything from his office about any impropriety. The funds are there, not tampered with or moved,'' Finizio said.

Baxter would not comment on Finizio's decision, but said, "We'll let the agencies in the government who have control over the funds, over the city, and over attorney conduct decide."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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