Options faces deadline

Published 2:14 am Friday, October 3, 2008

By Staff
Told to repay moneyor lose grant fundingto other organizations
Staff Writer
A local nonprofit women’s shelter has until Oct. 10 to pay a state agency more than $51,000, according to a letter from the Governor’s Crime Commission.
If Options to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault doesn’t pay, the state will give grant money that would have gone to Options to other groups, wrote David Jones, director of the Governor’s Crime Commission, in a letter sent to Options’ board of directors.
Representatives from Options and the commission have met, looking to reconcile the groups, the letter states.
The letter, sent Monday to Delma Blinson, president of Option’s board of directors, lays out a path for Options to regain grant funding, which was suspended earlier this summer for the second time in a year.
Jones and Mel Chilton, director of the N.C. Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission, have agreed that Options must pay the $51,863.38 it owes from grant money awarded for the 2007-2008 fiscal year before it sees a penny more, Jones wrote.
Once that’s done, Options can begin drawing funds from a two-year federal grant it received, Jones wrote.
Then Chilton and Jones would meet with the shelter’s board of directors “to discuss our concerns with respect to the board composition, appearances of conflict of interest, and the overall management of the Options program,” Jones wrote.
Jones has expressed reservations about the relationship between Options’ executive director, Lee anne Hanson-Niver, and Blinson.
Blinson is the Web editor of the Beaufort Observer. Hanson-Niver’s husband, Jay Niver, is the newspaper’s editor. Jones said that either Blinson or Hanson-Niver must find a position elsewhere so they are not required to counter-sign each other on grant applications.
According to Blinson, he became board president in late July. Blinson first joined Options in February, when he was introduced to the board as an advisor, according to meeting board minutes obtained by the Washington Daily News.
After those concerns are addressed, Options would again be eligible for state grants, according to the letter.
The letter continues in bold text: “If we do not receive a check for the amount owed of $51,863.38 … by close of business Friday, October 10th we will proceed with grant awards of the state funds for (fiscal year 2008-2009) to other service providers in that region.”
Jones, in an telephone interview Tuesday, said the Options situation is unique because of the large area Options covers and the large amount it owes.
Options has indicated to the state that “severe hardships” and possible layoffs could be coming if funding to Options doesn’t resume soon, Jones said.
Jones said he believes Options could meet the payment deadline.
In the letter, he wrote to Blinson that “I enjoyed meeting with you last Thursday and trust that we have made process in resolving the issues between Options and the Governor’s Crime Commission … and the Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission.”
Options’ leaders had expressed concerns about the details of the bill, but the meeting seemed to have helped, Jones said.
That detente is a marked shift from relations between the two organizations in the past, which had been strained.
As early as February, when Blinson was first introduced to Options’ board as an advisor, he was unhappy with government groups that work with Options.
In an Aug. 12 letter to Jones, obtained by the Washington Daily News through a public-documents request, Blinson called the decision to suspend Options’ funding “arbitrary and capricious” and “an abuse of discretion.”
Blinson wrote that his group made adequate efforts to notify the Crime Commission of wholesale changes in Options’ board’s composition and complained that the commission didn’t notify Options before suspending its funding.
He also criticized Jones in that letter for the commission’s involvement in personnel matters. A number of former Options employees have been lobbying government officials to intervene at Options.
And Blinson was upset with Jones for talking with the press.
He criticized Jones’ comments the last time funding was suspended, at the end of 2007, and he hasn’t been happy with Jones’ actions this time, either.
Much later in the letter, he wrote that the coverage had an impact on local support for the shelter.
In that interview, Jones said his agency’s problems with Options were “of great concern.” Blinson called them routine paperwork matters.
Blinson summed up his assessment of the agency: “My impression of the way GCC operates is that it has a bunch of loose cannons who consider their authority to be much greater than it is or should be.”
Blinson declined to comment for this article, saying that the Washington Daily News has “distorted the Options story.”