V&T commission and foundation feud erupts again over fundraising claims

A dispute between the Northern Nevada Railway Foundation and the V&T Railway Commission which caused the two groups to essentially divorce has reared its head again with the publication of the foundation's new calendar.

That calendar states that the foundation has raised more than

$2 million for reconstruction of the historic Comstock railroad - an assertion that Commission Chairman Dwight Millard and project coordinator Kevin Ray say is patently false.

The dispute first boiled over after commission members, including John Tyson and Ron Allen, charged that Foundation Director Janice Ayres was keeping most of the money she raised for the foundation, rather than turning it over to the commission. After Millard sent her a letter asking for a complete accounting of funds raised, she responded with letters saying the foundation "has voted unanimously to remove itself as the fundraising arm of the commission." But she later said it would continue some fundraising for the reconstruction project among others, such as a Chinese railroad workers' museum.

Millard said the situation has gotten to the point that he wants to finalize the divorce with a letter telling Ayres to stop saying the foundation is raising money for the railroad project.

"I think it's time to have them cease and desist," said Millard. "We need a place for people to contribute directly, because the money (raised by the foundation) doesn't get to us."

He said he wants to make Ron Allen's Virginia & Truckee Historical Society the funding arm for the commission because "100 percent of the money comes to us."

"We would rather see donations go directly to the commission or directly to (Tom Gray's) V&T Railroad Company," he said. "A lot of people volunteered over the years, with good intentions. A lot of people made donations, but the money doesn't get to the commission."

Ayres presented a spreadsheet listing a total of $2,246,047 that she said the foundation had raised for the railroad project.

"All the funds raised, we gave them every bit of our assets," she said.

That includes the biggest pieces of the funding - $1 million from the Nevada Commission on Tourism, $50,000 from Earl and Wanda Casazza, and $50,000 from NV Energy. When the commission agreed to pay her operating costs, she said, she turned over $136,148.85 to the Carson City Finance Department for use by the commission.

Millard said that isn't true, that project coordinator Ray and former commission Chairman and Carson Mayor Ray Masayko went to Las Vegas and persuaded the tourism commission to approve the $1 million. Millard said Ayres originally applied for that grant but didn't secure the matching funds needed to actually get it approved, so the money was pulled back without being voted on. He said Masayko arranged for room-tax money as matching funds through the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, then persuaded the tourism panel to approve the grant.

Millard was himself primarily responsible for NV Energy's contribution.

"In Janice's mind, she got it," he said.

The other large pot of money on that spreadsheet is $800,000 in funding from the state Economic Development Authority. Ray said that money didn't come from the foundation either, but was awarded directly to the commission.

In addition, Millard said Ayres' spreadsheet double-counts at least $100,000 in the money turned over to Carson City Finance Department. In fact, that total does include both the Casazza and NV Energy donations, which are listed separately on the spreadsheet.

The sheet lists a total of $49,000 raised from "various fundraisers," to which Ray responded, "Where's the money?" He presented financial statements showing that none of that money ever reached the commission.

The spreadsheet lists $36,000 spent for quarterly newsletter articles and pictures during the past nine years. Ray presented financial statements showing that the commission paid those costs.

Of proceeds from auctions and other fundraisers, Ayres said, "we turned that all over to them, but they don't want to say so."

Ayres made it clear she doesn't intend to attend the commission meetings, saying she won't tolerate being insulted by Allen and Tyson.

Millard said he's drafting a letter to her and the foundation finalizing the divorce.


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