ELYRIA — Elyria Municipal Court Judge Lisa Locke Graves said Tuesday that she plans to hold a hearing to determine whether it was appropriate for Eddie McNeal II to pay off $50 worth of fines by doing community service work at the nonprofit he founded.
Locke Graves sentenced McNeal to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine after he pleaded no contest in April to persistent disorderly conduct for a November incident in which he was accused of banging on his ex-girlfriend’s door and sending her threatening text messages.
Locke Graves suspended the jail time and $200 of the fine at the April hearing.
McNeal, 42, then arranged with the court’s Probation Department to perform five hours of community service at The Re-In-Tree Association, also known as TRITA, at a rate of $10 per hour to pay off the balance of the fine. McNeal is the organization’s founder and CEO, although he said Tuesday that he is taking a voluntary leave of absence from TRITA because of negative publicity.
According to a community service log McNeal turned in to the court’s Collections Department, he worked 2½ hours on both May 6 and May 13 performing client data entry. The form listed Kristie Duffy as his supervisor.
Duffy said Tuesday that she was a volunteer at TRITA and signed the form to acknowledge that she had seen him do the work.
“I wasn’t his supervisor because he’s the CEO of the organization,” Duffy said. “As a volunteer of the organization I oversaw his work.”
Maggie Costaras, the compliance officer who approved the community service, said she handled McNeal’s community service as she would any other offender who was performing community service in lieu of paying fines. She said she performed a Web search to confirm the organization existed and called the number listed for Duffy to confirm the work, something Duffy said she doesn’t recall.
McNeal said he had explained his role at TRITA to court staff before he did the community service. He also said that all of his work for the nonprofit has been on a volunteer basis and he has never been compensated for running the organization.
“Being that everything I’ve done up to this point has been volunteer, I don’t see how it would be an issue,” he said.
McNeal said Duffy was a board member at the time she kept track of his community service hours.
The Lorain County Children and Families Council agreed to $41.67-per-hour memorandum of understanding with TRITA that was approved by the county commissioners earlier this month. The contract, which the county has since suspended, called on TRITA to counsel 18- to 21-year-old offenders being released by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
The county never actually called on TRITA to perform those services.
Several former TRITA board members who resigned last fall because of ethical concerns over how the nonprofit was being run have complained that they are still listed on one of TRITA’s websites as being active board members.
At least one of those former board members, Lorain attorney Zachary Simonoff, is considering taking legal action against McNeal if the site doesn’t take down the names, biographies and photos of those no longer associated with TRITA.
McNeal, who is out of state, said last week that the site has been taken down twice and he is working to have it taken down again. The site remained active Tuesday.
McNeal said he continues to believe TRITA provides a much-needed service and that coverage of the issues surrounding him and the organization already has damaged its ability to do its work.
“There’s no reason for the organization to suffer because of what’s happened,” he said.
The current board, whom McNeal has refused to identify, has not yet named someone to lead TRITA in his absence, McNeal said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.