Audit puts Waccamaw economic agency's funds at risk

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council has until April 12 to submit e-mails and other oversight information to the state's Office of Economic Opportunity or risk losing funding, said Louise Cooper, from the state's OEO office.

If they do not comply, the Waccamaw EOC could face the loss of about $8 million in community service block grant funding for housing assistance, job training and weatherization services.

An audit performed by the state and released March 26 found numerous areas of concern including the missing data. Among them are allegations of EOC board members using their positions for personal gain; improper election procedures to board positions and lack of proper racial, economic and geographical representation on the board and its commissions.

The Waccamaw EOC serves Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties and administers the Head Start program, which is funded separately.

"This is a serious issue, and it needs to be dealt with," Cooper said. "The Waccamaw EOC, all of the staff, does a good job of delivering assistance. We need to make sure board compliance is met and to make sure they are operating with accountability."

The state has requested the missing documents be provided immediately, Cooper said.

Once the EOC submits the supplemental documents, the state will issue a final report and issue any corrective action plans, if needed, Cooper said.

The EOC's board is expected to meet Tuesday to figure out what to do next.

During the state's compliance monitoring, EOC Chairman Zach Grate denied access to the e-mails from the EOC's upper management that the state requested, according to the audit.

Grate did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Grate also is accused of sending correspondence to board members telling them not to comply with the state's request to hold individual interviews as part of our monitoring process, according to the audit.

Nine board members initially declined to be interviewed. Since the report was released March 26, two other board members have decided to be interviewed.

The state's preliminary report was brought up at the EOC's board meeting Tuesday night, Cooper said.

The audit report was not on the board's original agenda released to the public.

In addition to failing to submit e-mails from the EOC's management - a violation of grant requirements - the EOC's board has also acted inappropriately, according to the state's preliminary audit.

Grate reportedly questioned EOC staff about why a former co-worker of his had not been hired by the EOC and asked for justification.

Abdullah Mustafa, an EOC board member elected to represent Horry County residents in poverty, was the subject of several allegations made in the state audit. The report said several board and staff members reported Mustafa's behavior, including inquiring about a job applicant, requesting services for several clients, inappropriately communicating with agency staff and other issues with micro-managing the agency staff.

Mustafa, who is the president of a national human rights organization, said the complaints relate to his performing his duties as a representative for residents in poverty. He said he inquired about when benefits would be available after residents called him saying they were turned away because the monthly allotment of funds had been given out.

"There have been complaints again and again when people went to get help with things like paying their light bill or water bill and weatherization and rent. Folks go down there, [the staff] says there's no money, but they don't say that there will be money at this time, so come back then. They help who they want to help right now," he said. "The audit says that they don't have any concrete evidence against me, if you read it."

Mustafa also said he wants to change the agency's bylaws to include a channel for staff accountability, which he said is not clear in the current rules.

The audit report says behavior by Mustafa and another board member is against the outlined chain of command and falls into the realm of micro-management of staff, who under the organization of the agency should be answering to the executive director to avoid conflicts of interest. Mustafa, who has been on the board for about six months, said he has no plans to change his behavior or to submit to an interview with the auditor.

"How all of this came about is a personal issue with the executive director and one of the other board members. So when I was found out the director had turned in complaints to the state, I said no, I'm not going to go into that interview," he said. "My thing is accountability. There needs to be some sort of accountability built into this agency for the director and the employees. Right now, it doesn't exist."

One of the state's recommendations is to remove EOC board members who have used their positions for personal gain.

This is not the first time the Waccamaw EOC's board has come under fire.

In 2006, the EOC's executive director, Edward Jordan, and Treasurer Bill Jones quit over frustration with the board's actions. Jordan said the board spends more time on petty personal issues than on the business of an agency that handles $8 million in taxpayer funds a year.

One example is some members' attempts to get special programs for their communities or to move money from one program to another, Jordan said. The agency can't start new programs unless it identifies the population with the need for the program, and it can't move money from one program to another, Jordan said.

The programs are supposed to be operated uniformly.

Jones said he couldn't deal with board members' lack of attention to the bylaws and federal and state operating rules.

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