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PF Legion members sue officers

by Brian Walker
| June 24, 2010 9:00 PM

POST FALLS - A group of Post Falls American Legion members are suing officers of the post, claiming they have withheld financial reports, wrongfully suspended at least two members who asked for open books and ran an illegal election.

The complaint filed in 1st District Court names 15 members as plaintiffs and the post's officers as defendants.

The members are asking for access to all of the organization's financial records back to January 2003, an independent audit and to terminate April's election.

Steve DeGon, who signed the complaint, said financial reports have not been revealed for several years and, when members ask to open the books, they're suspended.

"We don't know how the money is being spent - that's why we're asking for the audit," DeGon said. "If they're in the right, they're in the right. But when we ask for them and they don't give them and suspend people, it raises a red flag to the members.

"None of us wanted to do this, but as a group we felt that we had no choice."

John Dunlap, longtime commander of the post, declined to comment, other than saying the complaint is only part of the picture and that some members are disgruntled over the election in which he was re-elected. He said he's seeking advice from an attorney.

Cliff Hayes, who has been a legion member for about 20 years, said he has been pleased with Dunlap's leadership overall.

"I think he's done a great job for the average member such as myself," Hayes said.

Dunlap has served in several state and national legion positions and is respected by many veterans and community members as being the post's glue over the years and running activities in an orderly fashion. He has maintained his leadership, even with health issues in recent years.

The Post Falls post is the largest in the state with more than 600 members and commonly hosts state and national events, which some members say is a credit to Dunlap's leadership. A national legion leader will speak at the post in July.

But the plaintiffs say the election lacked oversight, members voted on small pieces of paper, not the prepared ballots, and each member could have voted multiple times under such a process. They also don't believe suspending members for requesting financials is right.

"This (complaint) was not done out of malice and it's nothing personal," said Deanna Sasse, a plaintiff. "We, as members, just believe what has been done has not been in accordance with the American Legion. We have tried everything possible to get this resolved at the lowest level and remain open to getting this resolved, but this is where we're at."

Plaintiff Phil Thompson said "there is no accounting or financials being reported to the members or the public.

"I am concerned for the people who donate money or goods to American Legion Post 143," he said.

Plaintiff Rod Engles said he was elected treasurer last spring, but was never installed because he was suspended in early May for a year. He said the organization has operated without a treasurer in recent years until someone was recently appointed by Dunlap.

"John has handled everything and that's who we went through for the books," Engles said. "I don't believe he felt like he needed (a treasurer). I've been asking for the records for two years.

"We have no idea what goes through there on an annual or weekly basis. We're completely in the dark."

Engles said he was informed that he was suspended for allegedly threatening leaders when he told them he was disappointed that no military members where honored at last spring's awards ceremony. He wouldn't speculate if his requests for records was a reason.

The state legion office said it is aware of the situation, but is not involved because such matters need to be resolved at the post level.

The plaintiffs said a meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night to try to resolve the issue, but Dunlap declined to hold the meeting.

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