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Alleged mismanagement of Sirena Fest funds threatens to derail plans for special playground in Salado

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 7:53 PM CDT
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SALADO, Texas (KWTX) - The founder of Salado’s Sirena Fest is facing accusations of mismanaging funds that were donated to build an all-abilities playground for children with disabilities.

For years, Salado mother Michelle Lenis, whose son Henry has autism, had been looking forward to the playground being built

“For him to have all the play panels - that’s great for his sensory,” Lenis said. “And it brings parents together for play dates and socializing. A lot of parents, when you have kids with special needs, you can feel alone.”

Construction on the playground will begin in January 2022, according to the mayor of Salado, who said the village will make it happen with or without money from the Sirena Fest.

The festival’s organizer, Tiffany Schriener, said she wanted to meet the needs of families like Henry’s when she founded the annual Sirena Fest as a nonprofit and began fundraising for the park in 2018.

“Because of my love for children, and my board’s love for children, and because of my life’s calling, really. I love kids,” Schreiner said.

While this year’s Sirena Festival was magical for attendees, chaos reigned behind the scenes.

A new group came forward to take over some of the planning, claiming the original founder is mismanaging funds.

Sirena Fest volunteer Theresa Howard and other volunteers raised red flags, even filing a criminal complaint with local police against Schreiner. They claim they witnessed mismanagement of the Sirena Fest non-profit fund.

“It was just a huge concern where the money had gone,” said Howard. “I had been hearing whisperings throughout the community like ‘Where is the money? So much money. This has been going on for four years, where is the money?’ and I thought there’s something to that,” she said.

News 10 obtained income statement records for Sirena Fest prepared by Variety of Texas, a larger non-profit group that oversees the management of Sirena Fest.

The statement dated July 2021 reveals that in between 2018 and 2020, Sirena Fest raised about $80,000. However, only a little more than half of that, $43,019, is left for the park.

The non-profit, under Schreiner’s leadership, was reportedly spending 45 percent of its revenue on festival-related expenses.

“There’s an entry in there for $3500 that was spent on a band. For instance, this year we spent $500 on a DJ,” Howard noted.

Howard and other critics said the spending is excessive and shows Schreiner is more concerned with throwing a grand party with her name on it.

Schriener said the spending was authorized.

“Those are expenses that Variety approved,” Schriener said. “They were paying insurance and staff and CPAs to put on the festival.”

Beyond the spending, the volunteers claim Schreiner received Sirena Fest funds to her personal Venmo account, something News 10 confirmed.

The income statements reviewed by News 10 reveal some of those funds may not have been reported to Variety for the playground.

“If you look at this profit and loss statement, you’ll see that there are no donations, no money put in by Tiffany [Schreiner] in 2020 and 2021,” Howard explained.

Schreiner said she sees nothing wrong with receiving Sirena Fest funds to her personal Venmo account and denies any wrongdoing.

“No. I did not fail to report,” she said. “I actually did fail to report and that was my personal expenses that I was putting into it because I did not want it to take from it.”

The money for the playground is supposed to come from the Sirena Fest fund, the Village of Salado itself, a different mermaid group called Sirenas of Salado and Tito’s Vodka.

Once the total funds reach $150,000, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission promised to match it.

Now, Schreiner says she won’t release Sirena Fest funds to partner with the Village of Salado.

“Our hearts just cannot in good faith build with the village right now. And if we end up with two all abilities parks, even better,” Schreiner said.

It’s not clear if she can legally withhold Sirena Fests money without authorization from Variety of Texas.

In a statement to News 10, Variety of Texas President Stacy Bruce said, “Variety is aware of questions raised regarding Tiffany Schreiner and Sirena Fest. Due to potential legal proceedings, Variety has no comment regarding Ms. Schreiner.”

The Mayor of Salado, however, told News 10 the village plans to increase its contributions to the park fund if need be.

Salado Police have not commented on the substance of the accusations in the police report filed by Howard against Schreiner.

As for the festival, next year both Schreiner and her critics plan to put on dueling versions of Sirena Fest as a separate battle is brewing over who has the rights and proper trademark for the festival’s name.

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