August 2, 2014

Elyria
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County suspends TRITA deal

ELYRIA — The Lorain County Children and Families Council on Friday suspended a memorandum of understanding with The Re-In-Tree Association after it became public that the leader of the nonprofit was convicted of a crime in April.
“Based on all recent reports, we feel there was an omission of information and misrepresentation of your organization by you as the Director,” the council’s director, Melissa Stefano, wrote in a letter sent to the group’s CEO and founder Eddie McNeal II on Friday. “This is both troubling and unacceptable.”
The county commissioners approved the $41.67-per-hour contract with TRITA, as McNeal’s organization also is known, last week.
Stefano has said her department has not called on TRITA to perform any work under the terms of the contract, which called for the nonprofit to help 18- to 21-year-old offenders being released by the Ohio Department of Youth Services re-enter society.
The agreement is retroactive to May 15 and runs through June 30, 2014. The contract can be canceled for any reason with 90 days of written notice.
McNeal, 42, served a stint in prison after being convicted of aggravated robbery and felonious assault in 1992. His most recent brush with the law saw him plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of persistent disorderly conduct for a November incident in which his ex-girlfriend reported he was banging on her door and sending her threatening text messages.
In an interview, McNeal said the revelations, first reported by The Chronicle-Telegram on Friday, had “stopped any progress in Lorain County on re-entry” for offenders.
McNeal said TRITA has helped roughly 30 people convicted of crimes since he launched the organization in 2011.
He also defended himself and his organization in a late night voicemail and email Friday. In the email he referred to the charges — he originally had faced menacing and telephone harassment charges in the case before they were reduced as part of his April plea — as “trivial” and described the incident as “a texting argument with a significant other.”
McNeal also wrote that he had stepped back from TRITA while he was dealing with the case and pleaded out “in order to be done with the situation and to be able to move on with my life and the tasks of running a nonprofit organization.”
Stefano said she met more than once with McNeal after seeing him speak at a forum at Lorain County Community College earlier this year before she agreed to the memorandum of understanding. She said she was unaware of McNeal’s recent legal troubles when she reached the agreement.
Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes, who ordered the memorandum of understanding suspended until he can discuss the issue with the commissioners, said the county’s current procedures for vetting those it contracts with wouldn’t have turned up McNeal’s past.
“We don’t do criminal background checks on vendors and nonprofit organizations. We don’t have the resources to do that,” he said.
County commissioners Ted Kalo and Tom Williams both said that the county needs to take a fresh look at how it awards memorandums of understanding in the future.
Williams said he doesn’t believe McNeal is the right person to be counseling convicted criminals trying to start over.
“I just don’t think the taxpayers should be paying him to help other people when he needs help himself,” Williams said.
Stefano said she felt TRITA’s mission of helping youthful ex-offenders re-enter society would be a good fit for the Children and Families Council, which also has programs designed to prevent child abuse, help parents and children in their first years of life and counsel families in crisis.
The council has two full-time and two part-time employees and a budget of approximately $1.1 million, the bulk of which comes from state and federal grants.
McNeal’s legal entanglements aren’t the only issue facing TRITA, which recently moved out of its former offices at the Great Victories Christian Ministries in Lorain.
Several former board members have complained that one of TRITA’s websites lists them as board members even though they resigned last fall because of concerns over the ethics and direction of the agency, including concerns about how money was being handled.
McNeal said Friday that he has receipts for all of the money that was spent by TRITA and denied there was any sexual misconduct at the organization, the possibility of which was raised by former board member and Lorain attorney Zachary Simonoff in his resignation letter last year.
McNeal said the website that lists Simonoff and other former board members as still being active with TRITA was no longer supposed to be up, although it was listed as the website for TRITA on material he gave to Stefano earlier this year. He said the site has been taken down twice and he had no explanation for why it remained an active website.
He said he is trying to have it taken down again.
McNeal also said that he has an active board, but refused to provide their names.
“Those people, if they chose to be named, that’s on them,” he said in his voicemail. “If they don’t want to then I’m not going to give them access to be bothered.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

  • Andrew

    So….. this isn’t where I come for the free lunch?!