Options’ funding held up by Crime Commission

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

By Staff
Options’ board president: It’s a routine paperwork matter
Crime Commission director: Issue is ‘of grave concern’
Staff Writer
A series of resignations from the board of directors of a local nonprofit battered women’s shelter has prompted a state agency to temporarily halt hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding.
Options to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, a Washington-based group, must get its finances in order and give a clear accounting of who is on its board of directors before it can receive more grant funding, said David Jones, executive director of the Governor’s Crime Commission.
It was the second time in a year the shelter’s grant funding was cut off.
At stake is $110,000 of a two-year federal grant, as well as state funding for the 2009 fiscal year, which is expected to run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Crime Commission, which administers the funds, needs to know who the organization’s officers are and what Options did with the money still outstanding from last year’s state grant, Jones said.
More than a third of the $265,000 Options got for the 2008 fiscal year has not been accounted for yet, he said. The shelter still has one month’s worth of cost reports to submit, Jones said. Anything not accounted for must be repaid.
Delma Blinson, president of Options’ board of directors, called the matter “routine” and said the question about the board was a matter of “two forms” that had to be filled out.
He also emphasized that a final accounting for fiscal year 2008’s grant money is not due until the end of this week.
The shelter, which receives more than $600,000 of grant money annually, also had its funding temporarily cut off in October 2007. It was restored in January 2008.
Blinson’s personal belief is that the entire problem this time was created by “a couple of disgruntled former employees,” he said.
Jones did not share Blinson’s sanguine approach.
On June 30, 2007, the board had 11 members, according to federal tax forms.
Blinson said the board had just five members on July 24, 2008. Four board members had resigned between July 13, 2008, and July 21, 2008, including the board’s then-president, Vivian Visco, and its treasurer, Shirley Hanberry.
The Crime Commission also was not ever properly notified that Christy Fox, the board president before Visco, had resigned in March 2008, Jones said.
Officials realized Fox no longer held the presidency when they found out Visco had resigned from the post, Jones said.
The issue came to Jones’ attention because his agency, the Governor’s Crime Commission, also distributes grant funding for the Council for Women’s/Domestic Violence Commission as part of a new interagency agreement, he said. Visco and several other board members sent copies of their letters of resignation to a Domestic Violence Commission staff member.
Fox said she resigned in March for routine reasons.
But Hanberry, a retired federal accountant, resigned from the board four months later because she no longer felt comfortable about her role as treasurer, she said.
Hanberry had questions about a number of firings by Options’ executive director, but Hanson-Niver declined to answer them, citing possible personnel confidentiality concerns, Hanberry said.
The Crime Commission had previously expressed concerns about high employee turnover to Options, Jones said.
Hanberry stopped signing financial forms because she did not “feel good” about the organization, she said.
When Visco resigned as president, Hanberry decided she no longer had a chance at fixing the organization and resigned too, she said.
Blinson — listed on his business card as “Webeditor” of the Beaufort Observer, a publication run by Jay Niver, husband of Hanson-Niver — assumed the presidency on July 24 and began working to rebuild the board.
A few days later, the letter from the Crime Commission halting funding to Options arrived.
Jones also confirmed that he was in Washington last week to meet with several former employees of Options, who had questions about the way the organization is run. Jones was careful to point out that the former employees’ concerns were mostly “an employee-management dispute,” while the Crime Commission is interested in the board turnover issue “as a funder.”
When Jones left the meeting at George H. and Laura E. Brown Library on West Second Street in Washington, Jay Niver walked up and started snapping photographs of him, Jones said.