Options funds frozen until changes made

Published 7:37 pm Friday, August 29, 2008

By Staff
Must repay money, find new leadership, says a state official
Staff Writer
A Washington women’s shelter must find new leadership and repay more than $50,000 to the Governor’s Crime Commission to be eligible for state and federal grants again, a state official said.
On hold are hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money, which is the shelter’s primary source of income, according to federal tax forms.
The services the shelter offers will reach the five-county area it serves no matter what, Jones said. Options serves Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Washington and Tyrrell counties.
This is the second time in less than a year Options has faced difficulties with its grant funding. The state temporarily halted grant funding in October 2007, restoring it in January.
Options will be able to repay the commission, Blinson said.
Options’ staff is still studying the state’s numbers, he said.
About $20,000 of the money Options owes stems from expense reports the Governor’s Crime Commission rejected, Jones said.
The remaining funds simply went unspent after the state advanced $265,000 in grants to Options last year, he said.
The shelter’s tumultuous last year is a red flag in general, and it also needs to change leadership to get funding back, Jones said.
He said Blinson has close ties with Lee anne Hanson-Niver, the shelter’s executive director.
Blinson had been a consultant to Hanson-Niver about the shelter before becoming its president, Jones said.
Blinson also is Web editor of the Beaufort Observer, according to his business card. The Beaufort Observer’s editor is Jay Niver, Hanson-Niver’s husband.
Jones cited both connections as reasons he believes having Hanson-Niver and Blinson in leadership posts at the same time is a bad idea. Both positions sign off on grant applications, and having closely linked people in those jobs could diminish checks and balances, Jones said.
There would be no conflict if Blinson remained on the board in some other capacity, Jones said.
Blinson said Thursday evening that he hadn’t heard about Jones’ concerns.
Options’ board has twice determined (unanimously) that his ties to Hanson-Niver do not constitute a conflict of interest, Blinson said.
The board also has acted to address the state’s concerns that Blinson had held too many roles on the board for a time, Blinson and Jones said.
For a time after the board lost most of its officers during an eight-day period in July, Blinson said, he simultaneously served as president and treasurer of the board.
That was contrary to federal guidelines, Jones said.
But as Options works to rebuild its board, Darwin Woolard, a member of the Washington City Council, has been elected its treasurer, Blinson said.
Also new is the board’s secretary, Zane Buckman, Blinson said.
Chloe Tuttle and Bob and Patrice Connelly, all of Williamston, round out the board. They have remained on the board through its recent turbulence, Blinson said. The current board has members from Beaufort and Martin counties, he said.
There are potential board members from other counties ready to join, but they’re waiting for the shelter’s issues with the state to be worked out, Blinson said.