July 29, 2012

Fund for longtime Hurst worker's children is tied up in family dispute

When Kevin Burlison unexpectedly died from a stroke in 2006, he left behind a legacy of love and hard work.

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HURST -- When Kevin Burlison unexpectedly died from a stroke in 2006, he left behind a legacy of love and hard work.

During his 24 years at the city of Hurst, the 43-year-old father of three worked his way up from pothole patching crew member to street maintenance supervisor to street department superintendent.

In 2004, he was employee of the year, and his reputation as a volunteer was exceptional, with Public Works Director Ron Haynes calling him a "doer and a provider." The city even named a street for Kevin Burlison and dedicated a park bench in his honor.

"If there was a need for something to be done, he already had it half done," Haynes said.

It wasn't a surprise that Kevin Burlison's co-workers wanted to help ensure that his young daughters -- Tori, 13, Kelsey, 11, and Brandi, 8 -- could afford college. A fund was established, and the $14,000 it raised purchased savings bonds that could have been worth about twice that now.

So when Tori Burlison, now 18, registered at Hill College in Hillsboro, she expected the money to be there. The only problem is that Bryan Burlison, Kevin's brother and administrator of the fund, refuses to give her any of the money, expressing concerns that the family will squander it.

The fight over the fund, which stems from a longstanding family feud, has gotten so bad that the city of Hurst got involved June 21 by sending a letter to Bryan Burlison asking that he honor the donors' generosity by giving his niece money for college.

"The many individuals, groups and organizations who donated to the fund trusted that the proceeds would benefit the girls' education. ... We encourage you to honor the donors' gifts specifically for the three girls' educations."

Tori Burlison said that when she asked her uncle about the fund, she was told that she wouldn't get any of it.

"He sent me a couple of texts and a voice mail that he isn't going to give the money back, but he definitely has it," she said. "I'm just taking his word for it that he has the money."

Family turmoil

The Kevin Burlison Children's Educational Fund was established soon after Kevin Burlison's death, and Bryan Burlison was named co-owner of the bonds in 2007. At the time he was acting as a liaison between the city and the family.

Hurst City Manager Allan Weegar told the Star-Telegram that the city did not structure the bonds so that it had any legal rights to the money or to dictate how it is spent.

Bryan Burlison, director of Bryan Burlison Creative Consulting, said he cashed in the bonds a few years after they were purchased and invested the money into a Merrill Lynch account where the money would earn more interest than the bonds. He said the money is still in a special account.

He insists that he isn't blocking his younger nieces from their share of the funds, but that his intent is to prevent his former sister-in-law from getting any part of the money, because he is convinced she will squander it.

"I never said that they're not getting it," he said. "I'm trying to keep their mother from getting it."

Bryan Burlison has those concerns because of the turmoil his brother's family has faced since his death.

When Kevin Burlison died, he was separated from his wife, Katherine. She later remarried and moved with her new husband to Sachse.

After the family moved away, however, Tori asked to return to Hurst to be with her friends at L.D. Bell High School. She asked to stay with her paternal grandmother, Karen Burlison, which led to a legal fight over guardianship between Tori's mother, Katherine Burlison Stephanick, and the grandmother.

Eventually the grandmother lost the legal battle, although Tori continued to live with her until she graduated from high school. During that time the grandmother gave Tori a cellphone, a car and money to attend the senior prom, expenses equaling at least $15,000, Bryan Burlison said.

Because of those expenses, Bryan Burlison said Tori no longer deserves a share of the fund's proceeds.

City's offer

Tori Burlison said she has a soccer scholarship at Hill College so she doesn't feel like fighting with her uncle over the money for her education, although having the money "would have helped." But she worries that the purpose of the fund is in jeopardy.

"I'll be OK without it," she said. "He told me multiple times that he's not handing it back. I don't know if that means that he wants to hold onto the money and help out as my sisters need it when they go to college. I hope that's what it means."

Weegar said that Hurst is not going to get embroiled in a family issue but that if Bryan Burlison chose to give the city "proceeds equal to the amount received from cashing the savings bonds to the city of Hurst Finance Department," the city would administer the fund going forward.

"Our sole purpose in the process was to make sure that the three Burlison kids had money available at such a time as they went to college," Weegar said.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Twitter: @fwstevans

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