Dispute emerges out of Hillside’s local youth organization

HILLSIDE, NJ — A dispute has emerged between Hillside’s Democratic Municipal Chairman, Anthony Salters, and Hillside Pop Warner president, Rayba Watson.

The issue stems from funds that were raised by Salters and given to Pop Warner — a nonprofit youth organization that offers football, cheer and dance programs — for the purchase of football uniforms. In addition, Salters is taking issue with a letter that was circulated by Watson to Pop Warner donors.

Salters states that in August he was approached by Calvin Lofton, Hillside recreation manager and Pop Warner board member, to assist the Hillside Pop Warner football program in raising funds for uniforms. The cost of the uniforms was $4,000 in total, and an invoice was emailed to him by Lofton.

A month later, after he had raised $3,200 for the organization, Salters states he delivered the check to Lofton, after which the funds were turned over to the appropriate Pop Warner representative.

According to Salters, he inquired about the uniforms in November 2016 and then again in March. But then, according to Salters, things went awry.

“We raised $3,200 through the benevolence of people who were nice enough to help,” Salters told LocalSource in a March 24 email. “I personally hand-delivered each check to Mr. Lofton. To me, a uniform purchase for football uniforms or cheerleader uniforms would have satisfied the effort.”

Salters said that he was surprised by the response he received regarding the donated funds.

“I was surprised by Hillside Pop Warner Football president Rayba Watson’s unappreciative response and that basically, once the monies were given, it was none of my business how the monies were spent after that,” Salters said.

Salters also alleges that Watson, who is also a member of the Hillside Board of Education, informed him that she had not yet decided how the money would be spent.

After months had passed during which no uniforms had been purchased, Salters said, he asked for the money back.

“I immediately said to return the monies to me for distribution back to the donors or send it back directly,” Salters said.

Salters also said that Watson’s response was unacceptable, since donors gave funds specifically for uniforms and that that was how the funds needed to be spent.

“I personally made phone calls asking for donations and I hand-delivered every check to Mr. Lofton,” Salters said. “After seven months of uniforms not being purchased, I said, ‘buy the uniforms or reissue the checks for redistribution amongst the donors by the same channel you received them — through me.’ The donors contributed mainly because I reached out to them. By her not buying the uniforms in a prompt manner, my credibility can be questioned. I was not allowing that to happen. This is business.”

Watson released a statement to LocalSource on behalf of Pop Warner.
“We as an organization, none of its officers, and donors do not wish to be involved in any negative unworthy news,” read the March 26 statement. “We have consistent supporters who donate in a plethora of ways to support the organization and we greatly appreciate their countless acts of kindness.

Hillside Pop Warner is a non-profit organization established with the objective of teaching the children of Hillside the relevance of scholastic achievement and fundamentals of football, cheer, and dance in an organized, supervised environment with emphasis on safety in an atmosphere conducive to developing sound mind, body and character. In addition, we inspire youth to practice the ideals of good sportsmanship, scholarship, and personal integrity. This program follows the rules and regulations under Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc. So much has been written about the benefits of the athletic and scholastic investment. Our association also enables our parents and community members to invest their time toward building their communication with the children enrolled in the program.”
But there was another letter sent by Watson with which Salters is taking issue.

That letters was sent by Watson on March 18 to donors on behalf of Pop Warner, in which she explained the delay in purchasing uniforms and the subsequent non-purchase of uniforms. In addition, the letter said, checks were returned to all donors.

LocalSource has obtained a copy of this letter.
“As a 501(c)3 organization, we have specific guidelines that we must follow as an organization,” stated Watson in the March 18 letter. “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501 organizations are prohibited from participating in any political campaign activity in which by accepting donations from an Election Fund and/or a candidate running in a current election will be a violation and may result in denial or revocation of Hillside Jr. Comets tax-exempt status.”

The letter goes on to say that after researching and engaging legal advice into the matter, Pop Warner was informed that the donations could be accepted “provided the organization is not involved in any political activity of the donors.”

The letter stated that, “Due to the length of time it took for a response to be rendered, the season came to an end and we did not purchase uniforms. Although the donations made toward the purchase of uniforms was needed and greatly appreciated, to remain constant with the mission of the program and its integrity we are returning your donation.”

The letter then goes on to mention Salters.
“It should be noted Mr. Anthony Salters, Hillside Democratic chairman, informed the organization, ‘since uniforms were not purchased, he wants the refund to be given to him so he can re-distribute the monies.’ This is against our by-laws in regards to issuing refunds.”

“Watson said she would give the checks directly to the donors and I was fine with that decision as long as prompt action was taken,” Salters said. “At this time she could have still purchased the uniforms for the kids. She refused.”
Salters questions the time frame as well.

“It took seven months to do nothing,” Salters said. “The season does not last that long. This is not the NFL where it’s OK to say, ‘wait until next year.’ The children almost change over from year to year almost completely. She cheated a whole group of kids and parent fundraisers in 2016 out of the donated monies for uniform purchase.”

Salters also said that he was not looking for anything but a thank you.
“No donor nor myself was looking for any accolade by helping,” Salters said. “We do this all the time for other Hillside organizations without any fanfare. It’s about the children. A ‘thank you’ would have been appropriate, but I did not expect that from Ms. Watson. Mr. Lofton actually said thank you several times. After seven months it became ridiculous, even with a lawyer. Make a decision. In hindsight, we should have sent the check directly to the uniform vendor to keep it moving.”

Salters addressed the issue of his name being mentioned in Watson’s letter.
“I think my name was brought up as a typical emotional overreaction where her feelings became personal instead of focusing on the business at hand and our children as beneficiaries,” Salters said of Watson.

Salters also said that he believes that Watson’s explanation of the delay was disingenuous.

“Her explanation was total hypocrisy because the town council gave Hillside Pop Warner football a donation of $10,000 this year in an election year with three council persons running for re-election,” Salters said.

Salter said that years ago, Pop Warner was a defunct program and that his involvement in the Hillside community started with resurrecting the program.
“This is why knowing the history of whatever you are involved in is a lesson we all should remember,” Salters said. “Everyone I got a donation from knows me extremely well. Plus, we rely on community partners for their generosity to offset other Hillside organization’s’ needs and programs.”