It seems the Veteran Services Collaborative does not want to collaborate with the American Legion anymore.
After two public announcements saying the Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative would house their new veterans center at the American Legion in Newhall, the two organizations have broken ties.
“It’s too bad it didn’t work out,” American Legion Commander Greg Nutter said. “It is what it is.”
Plans for the center were first announced at a meeting the collaborative held at College of the Canyons on March 17, when Elliott Wolfe, organizer for the collaborative, said they would put the center at the American Legion.
Wolfe had talked with Nutter prior to the announcement about his idea to put the center at the Legion.
It was not until May 4, however, that the entire Legion voted unanimously in favor of housing the center.
A surprise to the Legion
Ken Putt, Judge Advocate for the American Legion, said most members of the Legion did not find out about Wolfe’s plans until after he made the public announcement in March.
This is not how the Legion operates, Putt said. For every decision, they meet, discuss and vote.
Putt said the group agreed to listen to what the collaborative had to say and thought a center could be a good idea. At a Legion board meeting, members of the Legion met with Lee and Joyce Shulman, locals and collaborative members, who gave them insight on their plans for the center.
Most of what the Shulmans suggested was appealing, Putt said, but the Legion still had questions. Joyce said they would have to ask Elliott Wolfe, but he was out of town.
Putt, Sergeant at Arms Thomas Troesch and Adjutant Kris Chase formed a committee to do more research in order to protect Legion members, Putt said. The committee was then accused by Wolfe of being formed because they did not want the center at the Legion and thus had no interest in servicing veterans, according to Putt.
“We’re very interested in helping veterans,” Putt said. “We did a lot of homework.”
The Judge Advocate said they wanted to have everything formally in writing.
“It sounds great, let’s put it in the agreement so there’s not disagreement later,” he said.
The group then presented Wolfe with a memorandum of understanding (MOU), to which Wolfe gave back a memorandum of agreement with some major changes.
In Wolfe’s version, he asked for a 10-year agreement with no right to cancel and unlimited use of the Legion’s facilities, among other “frightening” things, Putt said.
Legion members were split, according to Putt. Some were on board for the center regardless of the collaborative’s involvement, but others were skeptical or against it because Wolfe had rubbed them the wrong way.
At a Legion executive board meeting on May 2, the group planned to vote, but instead spent the day modifying the memorandum of understanding.
Two days later on May 4, the board presented the rest of the Legion members with their MOU, which they all agreed upon and voted in favor of unanimously.
All this work occurring, nearly two months after the Collaborative’s initial announcement that at a veterans center would operate out of the American Legion in Newhall.
“We thought we’d done some great work,” Putt said.
Give and take
Part of the MOU included an oversight committee that would make decisions about the center, which would include members of the American Legion, Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and the Veteran Services Collaborative.
The next day, Wolfe sent the Legion two pages of changes he wanted to make, including choosing his own oversight committee members on the Legion’s behalf and not allowing the Legion to break the agreement if they decided the center was not working.
“One of the more disappointing ones was Elliott choosing who the members of the oversight committee would be,” Putt said. “The Sons and the Auxiliary are very important to us. We definitely wanted their input and support.”
One of Wolfe’s selections for committee member was Nutter, which Putt said was a conflict of interest. Putt also thought it was important the Sons and Auxiliary got to choose their own representatives.
“I am a firm believer that everything he wanted could have been achieved using the memorandum and the rest could have been done using the oversight committee,” Putt said.
Not all Wolfe’s changes were a problem, Putt said, but the Legion wanted to discuss their concerns before finalizing the agreement.
“Everything was open to discussion,” Putt said. “We weren’t trying to shy away from anything, we just wanted to make sure it was legal.”
After making the changes, it was Legion protocol to have a revote. Putt said Wolfe demanded the changes be made immediately, not in June when the Legion would vote again.
“I don’t think he understood that’s how the Legion works,” Putt said.
According to Putt, the Legion was looking forward to working with the collaborative, but they wanted to ensure they protected themselves.
Wolfe said himself he would not wait any longer and decided to take the center elsewhere.
“The collaborative is doing great, we’re just not doing it at Legion,” Commander Nutter said.
As of May 15, the collaborative and Legion had “absolutely” broken off their relationship regarding the center, Wolfe said.
Wolfe is now looking for other locations for the center and has about nine different options and will decide on one this week, he said. Two locations are on Lyons Avenue and two are on Tourney Road, among other spots around the valley.
He said he is partnering with a politician, whose name he would not disclose, to search for the new location.
At the March meeting, Rep. Steve Knight’s District Representative Joshua Rivers relayed the congressman’s support for veterans.
As of now, however, their office is not involved in the process of looking for the new location, said Knight’s Communications Director Megan Dutra.
“Currently we are not involved,” Dutra said. “A member of our district staff has been approached regarding the situation and is looking into how we might be able to help.”
Nutter is still the commander at the Legion until mid-summer when Sergeant at Arms Thomas Troesch will take on the role. Current commander Nutter is a part of the Veteran Services Collaborative and will remain a member of the Legion even after he is no longer an officer.
Originally, the idea for a center was suggested by Jerry Buckley, Vice President of Academic Affairs at College of the Canyons and one of the founding board members for the collaborative.
According to Buckley, he and Wolfe met about nine months ago to discuss ways to better serve veteran students at the college.
Buckley said he still thinks there should be a center but he is not a part of the conversation as to where it will be.
“I’m committed to the concept but I’m not involved in the process,” Buckley said.
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