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Where have the Spencer Trustee's been?

The late Wilton H. Spencer left millions to the town of Barrington to “help the poor and unfortunate people” of Barrington.

In February, 2010, Barrington resident Alan MacQuattie removed a cyst from the leg of his 14-year-old Labrador mix. Mr. MacQuattie, a 63 year old disabled veteran living on social security, couldn’t afford medical care for his dog.

He was arrested and forced to pay $873 in restitution to the RISPCA, and additional charges to the court. The bills incurred by Mr. MacQuattie were more than he could afford. He was arrested again on March 18 after the Providence District Court issued a warrant for his arrest for allegedly failing to make court payments, as well as payments on the vet bill. Mr. MacQuattie was at one point forced to ask for donations in a Barrington shopping district, where he was allegedly again threatened with arrest.

The story made national news, and local donors ultimately helped Mr. MacQuattie with expenses. There is no record that town officials offered a helping hand. The irony being that in 1936, a benefactor from Barrington, the late Wilton H. Spencer, created the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund (Spencer Trust) providing resources to town officials to help “the poor and unfortunate people of said Town of Barrington”.

The Spencer Trust is a multi-million dollar Barrington trust fund left to the town in the will of Mr Spencer. The will was filed in probate in 1936. For a certain period of time, Spencer heirs would benefit, and then the money was to go into the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund to help the poor and unfortunate people of the Town of Barrington. At around 2002, the remaining money would have come to the town, but some Spencer heirs initiated a lawsuit, which was settled in 2005. 

There is no doubt that town officials were aware of the Spencer Trust. The record shows withdrawals going back to 2008 on behalf of entities such as the affordable housing developer, Providence-based West Elmwood Housing Corp, and the law firm of Ursillo, Teitz and Ritch. The town also purchased property on George Street, and have paid expenses to others. The poor and unfortunate Mr. MacQuattie received no offer of help despite the wide publicity of his plight.

A question remains - did the Spencer Trust allow for payments to corporations, and what was guiding the trustees on withdrawals? There had been no meeting of the six trustees (five Town Councilors and the Town Treasurer) to enact by-laws. There was no proper application process for Mr. MacQuattie, or any other town resident, to follow. Only a handful of town residents knew the trust even existed. How was it that a trust fund dedicated to “help the poor and unfortunate people” of Barrington was being used to benefit corporations and attorneys?

On March 12, 2012, seven years after the lawsuit was settled, the Barrington Town Council took up the issue of creating the Spencer Trust By-Laws. Per the transcript of this 2012 town council meeting, Council President June Speakman asked Town solicitor Michael Ursillo to “explain what’s going on here”.

The discussion that followed opened up more questions than explanations. According to the record, this was a meeting of the Town Council, not a meeting of all the Spencer Trustees. Further, it appeared that the proposed by-laws contained language that attempted to change Mr. Spencer’s original intent when he created the trust.

As the March 2012 council meeting progressed, the phrase “help people”, as contained in the original will, was changed to “benefit persons” (“People” are people, but “persons” includes corporations). This occurred at multiple times in the meeting where town solicitor, Mr. Ursillo, stated: “that’s the language directly from the will”. This is not true.

Equally problematic, an attempt was made to create an ability for the Spencer Trust to accumulate multiple years of income earmarked for large projects such as “affordable housing” projects rather than serving the annual needs of town residents as the Spencer Trust directs the trustees to do.

In the end, the only councilor to recognize something was wrong was Councilor Bill DeWitt who voted “No” to the By-Laws.

A town hall meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, January 28, 2013, 6 pm, to allow the proper trustees to finally meet as one group and correct errors in the By-Laws. A segment of the trustee’s believe that the Spencer Trust should be re-written to support affordable housing developers.

Residents need to be at this public meeting to voice their concern and support for the late Wilton Spencer’s actual intent to annually “help the poor and unfortunate people” of Barrington. Well financed Providence based corporations should not be the target beneficiaries of the Spencer Trust.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gary Morse January 28, 2013 at 08:43 PM
native, TAP-IN provides benefits to the entire East Bay in the same way the East Bay Community Action Program does. The way the East Bay Community Action Program handles the situation is to simply keep records that show the financial support was directed at only Barrington residents being a requirement of the Spencer Trust.
Van Ness January 29, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Can someone fill me on in what happened at the meeting last night. I was away from my computer last few nights and missed it. Also, did anyone video tape? I have been video taping meetings of importance.
Gary Morse January 29, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Pam, In summary, town councilor Ann Strong was terrific! She gets it that there is a huge problem here. The town's legal counsel admitted there was a problem that has to be fixed in the language of the by-laws ("persons" has to be changed back to "people"). This is a huge issue! Consider that the town was moving ahead with a new affordable housing development on George Street funded by the Spencer Trust. According to the records, this new project was to be similar to the Walker Farms affordable development, but funded by the Spencer Trust (as stated in Barrington's 2011 CDBG grant application to the State of RI). The records show that the Spencer Trust paid $268,207.08 for the George Street property, and additionally, paid Mr Ursillo's law firm $9114.14 on the same day for what appears to be his work on this project. The change back to "people" in the By-Laws will be interesting in that it now raises a question as to how the town will define the George St project as helping "the poor and unfortunate people residing in said town of Barrington". Are "poor and unfortunate people" defined as those who are making 120% of the area median income, i.e. - being the application requirements for those who bought homes at Walker Farm? And how does this include non residents, as was the case of those who purchased most of the homes at Walker Farms? The town has a big problem on it's hands.
Lorraine F January 29, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Are you saying that the Spencer Trust Fund can provide money to anyone "making 120% of the area median income"? In one of the affordable housing meetings I went to, someone said that $67,000 was the area median income. So 120% of that would be $80,400. My state pension is $39,000. Where did you say I apply?
marina peterson February 01, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Can I ask who approves the loans made to West Elmwood and others. Is there an application procedure? Is it voted on by the Town Council, who, I believe are the trustees? What exactly is the procedure Steve?

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