Waccamaw EOC tries to save itself; Hostile board submits new plan (with video)

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council will submit to state officials an eight-part plan that board members hope will comply with concerns raised by the state Office of Economic Opportunity in an agency audit.

The EOC stood to lose at least $8 million in funding through the state office and, staff members feared, another $6 million used to fund Headstart programs in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

The plan the board approved unanimously Tuesday calls for:

The election of new board officers.

Interviews of board members by the state office.

New policies and training on the chain of command at the EOC.

Changes in the way board members are elected.

A hearing for uninvestigated employee grievances.

A reconstitution of the board after the 2010 census data is known so that it will accurately reflect the population of the three counties it serves.

The plan was outlined and approved after a lengthy executive session that was called as board member Abdullah Mustafa questioned the ability of longtime EOC attorney Emma Ruth Brittain to advise the board, and she told him that she didn't have to listen to his criticisms.

Before then, any indication of compliance was in doubt, as board members admitted a new member who was elected under procedures questioned by the state OEO. Louise Cooper, head of the state office, and several of her staff members observed the meeting, and watched as eight board members ignored warnings from board member Richard Smith not to seat the new member.

Smith's motion not to seat the new member, the Rev. Wade Session, was seconded by former Horry County councilman Ulysses Dewitt.

"I think this board is heading off the cliff," Smith said.

Mustafa shot back at Smith, "You say this board is falling off the cliff. You're the reason it's falling off the cliff."

Mustafa did not return from the executive session in time to vote on the compliance plan. All of the other board members were seated for the vote.

Mustafa was the subject of some of the concerns raised in the state audit. The audit said he improperly interfered with agency business, goading employees to move on applications for assistance from people he knew.

Waccamaw EOC serves 8,000 to 10,000 people each year, said Beth Fryar, the agency's executive director. It provides assistance with electric and fuel bills, housing and foreclosure problems, among other things. Fryar said 774 children in the three-county area attend Headstart programs funded through the agency.

A number of people pleaded with the board during a public comment period Tuesday to straighten out its house so that funds would not be lost.

"Please, each and everyone of you," program recipient Bonnie Bellamy said to the board, "get out of self and think about the community."