Mary Katherine Murphy
ELIZABETHTOWN — The board of directors for Four-County Community Services, a non-profit that operates Head Start facilities and administers programs for the the poor in Robeson County and other nearby counties, said Tuesday night it will abide by recommendations in a state audit that accuses the agency of mismanagement.
The board voted on a plan of action following a two-hour closed session at the Bladen County Courthouse that was held to discuss recommended changes to Four-County’s bylaws. Media representatives did not receive copies of the new policies.
The changes are in response to an audit by the state Department of Health and Human Services. The board already fired Executive Director Richard Greene, who was accused in the Jan. 25 audit of having used a company-owned vehicle to tow his boat to fishing tournaments, concealing his marriage to Four-County fiscal director Annie Rothwell and other instances of mismanagement.
The audit by the state Department of Health and Human Services investigated 18 allegations and found 15 to be substantiated. The audit found that the agency misspent nearly $75,000 during the 2012 fiscal year and that other money appears to have been misspent since fiscal 2009.
The audit blamed much of the problem on Four-County’s lack of proper procedures and polices.
“The mismanagement/misuse of state or federal resources was a direct result of the failure of FCCS management to develop and enforce internal controls that could have prevented the mismanagement/misuse from occurring,” the audit said. “Additionally, FCCS failed to enforce its conflict of interest and nepotism policies. As a result, inappropriate business relationships developed between FCCS staff and various vendors along with inappropriate reporting/supervisory employment situations.”
The state had given Four-County until Monday to respond to the recommended policy changes.
“We amended our polices to reflect the changes recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services and we approved every one of them,” said John Alford, who serves on the board.
The recommendations made in the audit include:
n The Four-Count board of directors should either require the executive director to maintain a travel log for his assigned vehicle in accordance with policies or formally adopt and approve an exemption from policies. The exemption should also clearly specify whether the executive director may also use the assigned vehicle for personal activities.
n To strengthen internal controls, the FCCS board should review and approve all contracts with vendors doing business with Four-County to ensure that there are no conflict-of-interest situations and the contracts have been competitively bid and awarded in accordance with policies.
n To avoid any future confusion regarding the total amount of the executive director’s annual retirement contribution, the board of directors should review, discuss and vote on the annual supplemental retirement benefits for the executive director.
n To minimize any appearance of inappropriate payments to board members, the board of directors should either revise the bylaws and the administrative Policies and Procedures Manual to allow payments (regular compensation) to board members or stop the payments in accordance with their policies and bylaws.
n The board should ensure all financial relationships with various other agencies have been approved and clearly documented to avoid the appearance of impropriety and/or misuse of state and federal resources. Contracts should be clearly written to reflect the financial terms of the agreement between the respective parties.
Four-County is also expected to repay $280,000 that was spent on unallowed employee raises and retirement bonuses. In 2010, the Office of Economic Opportunity, which administers Community Services Block Grant funds, performed a fiscal review of Four-County and found that more than $300,000 had been misspent on employee bonuses.
In July 2012, DHHS told Four-County to repay $292,000, which has yet to happen.
Alford said that Four-County recently reached an agreement with the state and will repay $282,000 a payment deadline is established.
In addition to Robeson, Laurinburg-based Four-County administers Head Start programs as well as housing and weatherization assistance in Scotland, Hoke, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, and Pender counties.
Mary Katherine Murphy works for Civitas Media as a reporter for the Laurinburg Exchange.