August 29, 2014

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LCCAA board responds to anonymous letter accusations

A protester holds a sign in support of Selina Gaddis on Thursday at the Lorain County Community Action Agency board meeting. (CT photo by Steve Manheim)

A protester holds a sign in support of Selina Gaddis on Thursday at the Lorain County Community Action Agency board meeting. (CT photo by Steve Manheim)

LORAIN — Accusations in an anonymous letter of intentional underpayments of workers at the Lorain County Community Action Agency were unfounded, the antipoverty agency’s acting CEO and president said Thursday.

A biannual audit by the Ohio Department of Development found “no credence” to the accusation, acting CEO Jackie Boehnlein told the agency’s Board of Directors at its monthly meeting Thursday.

Boehnlein said the one underpayment involved $5.38 and was caused by nearly 30-year-old payroll software that is being replaced.

The audit did not address accusations of cronyism, corruption and incompetence that also were made in the letter. The letter accuses three former department heads of going on spending sprees with taxpayer money, including purchasing items for personal use and inflating Head Start enrollment.

One of the employees quit in 2009, another quit in September, and the third was fired in November.

A committee of board members is investigating the wider accusations. The quasi-public agency, which provides education, heating and housing assistance to poor people, has been dogged by a decade of corruption and dysfunction involving agency leaders.

A separate annual agency audit showed fiscal responsibility, said certified public accountant Laura McDonald, who briefed board members on it. The agency had about $12.6 million in revenue last year compared with nearly $13.8 million in 2010.

The decline was primarily because of the end of federal taxpayer stimulus money coming to the agency.

“There was no evidence of any unusual activity or anything out of the ordinary,” said McDonald, who said she’s been auditing the agency since 2005.
McDonald said community agencies frequently overspend on taxpayer or private grants and it had been a problem in the agency in the past. She said the fact that the agency hadn’t overspent was “something to be proud of.”
The agency has been seeking a new CEO since firing Robert Gilchrist in October after just two months. Gilchrist was dogged by bad publicity from a domestic dispute in which no charges were filed and accusations of voter fraud.
Board member Nancy Warzecha said the list of candidates has been narrowed from 70 to 22 and they hope to have a new leader by April or May.
About a dozen agency workers attended the meeting, with some carrying signs asking that Selina Gaddis, who left as Head Start director in 2007, be hired.
“She’s been here and seen the changes that have taken place,” said Marquis Frost, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which represents the workers.
Kathryn Ramsey, the head of Local 1199 and a family service worker with the agency, said communication need to be improved between management and employees.
Ramsey said agency leaders need to improve treatment of “the children, the families, the communities and the staff they represent.”
The agency plans to resume monthly meetings between bosses and workers.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.