LYNNFIELD (CBS) — As the fall sports season kicks off, there is controversy and confusion in a North Shore youth program. In April, the WBZ I-Team first reported the Massachusetts Attorney General opened an investigation into the finances of Lynnfield Youth Football and Cheerleading (LYFC) in 2015. To date, the AG’s office has not issued any findings or made any allegations of wrongdoing against current or former members of LYFC.
With that cloud hanging over the program, some parents and coaches believe it is time for new leaders to take charge. However, electing a new board of directors has proven to be a chaotic process.
In early August, there was a vote and new people won board positions. However, a legal opinion later ruled that process was invalid and another election would be needed.
At the subsequent meeting on August 30, angry parents packed the lobby and spilled out the doors of the Merritt Center.
They had shown up, expecting to vote for new board members. Instead, they were blocked at the entrance by police officers.
“It’s really unjustifiable for parents in this town not to be involved in the process,” one parent told WBZ.
Rich Sjoberg, chairman of the Lynnfield Recreation Commission, arrived at the building to find out who was being allowed inside the meeting. He learned the current LYFC board had quietly changed its by-laws to classify who would be considered a voting member.
LYFC leaders kept a list of those people at the front doors. The police were there to ensure only voting members were allowed inside.
It did not appear those changes were communicated to parents and others who planned to attend.
“This is unlike any meeting I’ve seen in this town,” Sjoberg said. “I knew to expect the unexpected and it seems that is what we got here.”
Inside the meeting, things were apparently just as messy. Video provided to the WBZ I-Team showed people yelling and arguing for more than an hour about who should be allowed to vote.
Some questioned why parents, who fork over more than $300 for their kids to play, were kept in the dark.
“We have a number of invested people who want to be involved in this program and we’re getting shut out!” one attendee said during the meeting.
Others wondered why the current board members are so unwilling to relinquish control. None currently have kids that participate in LYFC.
“I do this because it’s a passion for me and I care about it,” president Wayne Shaffer told the crowd.
Shaffer and other program leaders are on the hot seat because of the ongoing Attorney General’s investigation, which is reviewing financial records to see if program funds were misused.
The requested records include all LYFC accounts dating back to 2011 having as signatories Shaffer, former president Tom Terranova, board treasurer Jit Lee Billings, and board director Steve Berardino, who owns an Everett-based printing business that provides apparel for the program.
Nobody responded to WBZ requests for comment about the probe in April. When approached by the I-Team, both Shaffer and Berardino said they did not know anything about the AG’s investigation.
“My secretary must have got it,” said Berardino, when shown a copy of the demand for financial records from his business.
An attorney representing the program leaders called the investigation baseless, but declined to answer any questions on behalf of his clients.
Editor’s note: In early August, current and former executives of LYFC filed a defamation lawsuit against CBS Corporation, the parent company of WBZ-TV, and investigative reporter Ryan Kath. WBZ-TV will defend itself in that case while continuing to follow this story.
The issue of transparency resurfaced after the August 30 meeting. As Terranova left the building, he blocked the lens of a WBZ camera and said he was no longer an officer with the program.
Shaffer also left without providing an explanation to parents who had gathered outside. One angry mom chased him down and gave him an earful about the lack of communication.
“You have wasted all of my time having me come down here!” she shouted before Shaffer got into his car.
Because of all the controversy, the meeting ended without a vote. People will apparently reconvene in late September in yet another attempt to elect board members.
“We want to see a new board in place and we want to see our program thriving,” said cheerleading director Rebecca Drzewiczewski. “Unfortunately, the current board is not allowing that to happen.”
Time is running out. The I-Team has learned the program has not provided the Lynnfield Recreation Commission with the financial records and other required information needed to secure permits for the playing fields.
Games are scheduled to begin this weekend.
“The Lynnfield Recreation Board accepts the responsibility of overseeing permitted field use, by valid organizations that care for our children and will always have the best interests of the children of Lynnfield—in all organized sports—as our first priority,” Sjoberg told WBZ.