Virginia politics, policy and entertainment from the Greater Richmond-Washington Metro Area perspective.

A Skunk in Swan Lake

Manassas City Councilman Mark Wolfe’s improprieties go well beyond the documented conflicts of interests that have got him in trouble with Manassas voters. As is well-known, he is the Executive Director of Manassas Ballet, which employs his wife, and concurrently serves as head of the PWC Arts Council and as a Manassas City Councilman, which puts him in a position to direct taxpayer funds from both the City and County to an organization in which he has a direct personal interest. Also, we at Virtucon have provided documentation that Wolfe knowingly hires illegal aliens for his Ballet, using in part our tax dollars.

What has been entirely ignored by the media and should be considered by taxpayers on Election Day is Wolfe’s creative treatment of Manassas Ballet’s financial reporting. I watched the “60 Minutes” story on the collapse of Lehman Brothers last night and found their discussion of how Lehman manipulated their financial statements to accomplish less-than-ethical purposes very similar to how Wolfe handles Manassas Ballet’s financial reporting.

In short, Mark Wolfe and his sidekick, Kathy Bentz, pushed a new arts grants funding process through Prince William County a few years ago that bases arts grants from the County on revenues the organizations generate. They have been able to game this process through creativity in their financial reporting that allows Wolfe to grab an extra big chunk of County taxpayer money. The Manassas City Council wisely rebuffed Wolfe’s bid to implement a similar process in the City this year. Bentz is the County’s “Arts Liaison” and gets about $20,000 per year as a contractor largely to compile the recommendations for the Arts Grants Panel of how to allocate County arts funding.

At the same time the new funding process was put in place, Wolfe started combining revenue from the Manassas Ballet, which can reasonably be considered as an arts organization worthy of public support to the extent taxpayer money will be used to support the arts, with revenue from the dance school he and his wife run, which is essentially a private business competing with other dance schools in the area who pay their taxes and receive no public support.

Let’s look at the history of Wolfe’s financial reporting. Go to the archive of Manassas Ballet’s Form 990 filings. These are the publicly-available tax returns of organizations with non-profit status.

Look at the Fiscal Year 2007 Form 990, pages one and eight. Manassas Ballet reported program service revenue (sales and performances) of $91,267. The Fiscal Year 2008 Form 990, after the new formula for allocating County arts funding came into place is quite different. Again, look at pages one and eight. Program service revenue now includes ballet sales and performances ($99,870) as well as revenue from the Ballet Academy (the Wolfes’ dance school) of $144,663. Adding the dance school revenue more than doubled the revenue Wolfe reports to Prince William County, and thus his eligibility for County tax dollars, based on the formula Wolfe and Bentz themselves were instrumental in implementing in Prince William County. They’ve been reporting revenues this way since 2008.

Given the County arts funding formula Wolfe and Bentz helped push through a few years ago, adding the dance school revenue more than doubles the amount of County taxpayer money the Wolfes get. Moreover, based on this money and Manassas Ballet’s financial reporting practices, most of the County taxpayer support is going to the private dance school rather than public ballet performances.

Wolfe’s dance school does not serve a public purpose worthy of taxpayer support. In fact, it competes with other dance schools in the area that do not masquerade as non-profit organizations, and who do pay their taxes. Look at Wolfe’s own schedule of activities for dance school. Click on their 2012 summer schedule to see exactly what they are doing. Yoga classes subsidized by City and County taxpayers? Ballet classes for kids? Aren’t we already subsidizing the Freedom Center and other organizations for this sort of classes? Why should the Wolfes benefit from taxpayer generosity and non-profit status while other private dance schools do not?

Conflicts of interests, hiring illegal aliens, manipulating financial reporting to grab more taxpayer money; it’s high time for Wolfe to go. In addition, I would hope that members of the Arts Grants Panel and anyone on County staff who has let this scam slide for so many years would also come under public scrutiny. Perhaps even the Internal Revenue Service would be interested in a private dance school claiming non-profit status.

The stink here is just awful.

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4 Responses to “A Skunk in Swan Lake”

  1. Just the Facts

    This is a good article, but it omits some details important to understanding the chronology of events. The PWC Park Authority Board approved the Arts Grants Panel process basing arts funding on revenue reported from organizations requesting funding in January 2007. Thus, arts funding for Fiscal Year 2007 had been determined in Calendar Year 2006 prior to the change and not based on reported revenue. Under the new process approved by the Park Authority in January 2007, funding for arts organizations was based on reported revenue for Fiscal Year 2008 in Calendar Year 2007.

    The Arts Grants Panel membership is approved by the Park Authority typically in May of each year and announces its funding decisions (i.e., approval of whatever Kathy Bentz tells it to do) in the summer. Fiscal Years for the organizations often end in June or July, but program activity is usually wrapped up in the spring giving them plenty of time to report revenues even before the actual close of their Fiscal Year to serve as the basis for arts grants funding.

    The change in the funding process coincides perfectly with Manassas Ballet’s transition from not including dance school revenue in its totals (FY2007) to including that revenue (FY2008). Coincidence? I’m not buying it.

  2. Kevin

    Simple solution is for the government to stop funding art. What a waste of taxpayer funds.

    • May Ferris

      After reading such disgusting things about Mark Wolfe and his dance company over the past several years, my spouse and I decided not to put our children through that mess. But that doesn’t mean I don’t support the arts or financial aid to the arts. One rotten apple doesn’t spoil the barrel (even though it seems as if Mr. Wolfe has done his best to spoil the whole thing for us all). I’ll never vote for the man.

      But if we can invest thousands of dollars into a chic Fairfax-owned Hylton Center where the profits are re-invested into GMU salaries (oh yes!), and if we’re going to pour thousands of dollars into another charitable (“humanistic”) venture to learn about tanks (the wartime museum – check out the ED’s salary!), at least we can do something to raise our kids with some artistic sensibility and insight. I don’t want to be ashamed of my county and city because their leaders are just hayseed bumpkins with political agendas. I want my children to have some pride in having grown up in a place where they learned to use their minds – and not just their crocodile public smiles.

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