The board that runs the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade called a special meeting at the end of June because several members were concerned about “financial irregularities and possible misuse of parade finances,” a November 9 letter to the parade’s affiliated organizations from board chairman Dr. John Lahey said.

Lahey also asserted that the “Catholic nature of the parade honoring St. Patrick would never change,” and that the board – which elected Lahey as chairman at the June meeting – “is equally committed to maintaining its longstanding relationships with the AOH and the affiliated organizations, and any change in these relationships would also require a majority vote of the board.”

Lahey sent the new letter in response to an ongoing campaign against his leadership by the affiliated organizations which claims that Lahey is trying to diminish their influence over the parade. The campaign references bylaws concerning the board’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee that were up for discussion at a board meeting scheduled for Thursday, October 29 which was postponed because the committee chairman, John Dunleavy, sought an injunction at Bronx Supreme Court. The board’s litigators are currently preparing a defense against the injunction.

As reported by the Irish Voice last week, Dunleavy and former board member Michael Cassels are at the center of the “serious” financial irregularities Lahey refereed to in his letter. Lahey and businessman John Fitzsimons were elected by concerned board members to lead the board on June 30, “and the very next day we contacted the parade’s long-serving accountant and engaged him to perform a more extensive review of the parade’s finances going back three years,” Lahey said in the letter.

The audit, Lahey added, was completed over the summer, and board members were given a copy at the scheduled board meeting on September 28.

“The findings with respect to ffinancial irregularities were quite serious,” Lahey wrote. “But don’t take my word for this, feel free to contact other board members for their assessment.

“As directors of the parade, with both legal and fiduciary responsibilities for the parade’s finances, we must pursue these matters wherever they lead us, and subsequently take appropriate corrective action.

“Once this highest priority task is completed,” Lahey added, “I promise there will be ample time to address appropriately and satisfactorily your legitimate concerns about the continued involvement of the affiliated organizations and the AOH in the future governance of the parade.”

Last week’s Irish Voice exclusively reported on the contents of the audit report, which said that “a number of important internal control, financial reporting and governance matters … need to be addressed.”

Dunleavy was cited for “numerous, recurring out of town trips for which there was no indication of prior approval,” and “$2,000 in charges … of a personal nature for which the corporation was not reimbursed.”

The report cited Dunleavy loyalist Cassels for “duplicate reimbursements” which resulted in his ouster from the board of directors at the September meeting. Cassels issued a check to the board for $1,752.86 prior to his removal.

Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, spoke of his 30 years of service on behalf of the parade – he was grand marshal in 1997 – and added that “the last thing I need is another title or more parade-related volunteer work.

“If a majority of the St. Patrick’s Day Board of Directors would like me to step down as a director and chairman, I would be happy to do so immediately.

“In the meantime,” Lahey added, “my fellow directors and I will do our best to ensure that the policies and decisions approved by the Board of Directors are carried out, and that best governance practices consistent with state and federal laws governing not-for-profit organizations are followed.”

Lahey’s letter followed a similar assurance issued by the board of directors to the affiliated organizations last week. The press release said the board “is deeply concerned about misinformation being circulated and we want to assure everyone that, contrary to what has been circulated, there will be no changes to the parade, its traditions or format.

“We are committed to the involvement of the affiliated organizations in the parade… This has to be and is very much a part of the parade and part of the board's strategy as we move the organization forward to be more compliant with current state and federal governance guidelines concerning not-for-profit organizations.”

A letter campaign undertaken by the affiliated organizations against Lahey and the board has attracted over 5,000 signatures on Change.org. The original move against the board leadership occurred after Dunleavy’s formal role was diminished at the June board meeting. Dunleavy supporters in the organizations met on several occasions to affirm their loyalty to his leadership, but their campaign has shifted away from supporting Dunleavy and towards maintaining the organizations’ role in the parade.

“The only issue here for us is Dr. Lahey’s objective to eliminate the voice of the affiliated organizations by amending the by-laws to abolish the Parade Committee which is elected by the affiliated organizations,” a press release issued by the organizations last week said.

The organizations have not commented on the financial irregularities surrounding Dunleavy’s handling of parade funds.

The press release also chided the Irish Voice and IrishCentral.com for not reaching out “to the subjects of their stories to verify all the facts to ensure journalistic integrity of the highest order…we welcome an opportunity to set the record straight with IrishCentral.”

Several weeks ago, the Irish Voice contacted John Manning, one of the contacts on the organizations’ press release, to discuss the parade. The email remains unanswered. At that time the Voice corresponded with another high-ranking New York State member who did not want to be quoted. The Voice also contacted New York State AOH President Timothy McSweeney about the New York City parade.

McSweeney said the AOH “does not run parades,” and that individual members offering assistance to Dunleavy in forming a new corporation – as many were offering to do in September – “would be doing so in a private capacity.”

Dr. John Lahey says the new NYC St. Patrick's Day parade committee has no intent to diminish Catholic nature of parade.