Waccamaw EOC asks to be pardoned from restrictions

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council has asked the state for a reprieve from funding restrictions.

The Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity placed the agency on "reimbursement" status April 28, after its board members did not follow their bylaws in firing the agency's executive director.

Under reimbursement status, the financially precarious Waccamaw EOC must assist clients using its own money first before it can receive reimbursement from the state. Before the restrictions, the agency was given the money up front.

"Their low cash balance is not enough to service as many people as they were serving before," said Louise Cooper, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

Her office received the letter from the Waccamaw EOC asking for funding help last week.

The EOC serves more than 8,000 people in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties with its weatherization, job training and utility bill payment assistance programs.

The state oversees about $7.5 million in community service block grants awarded to the agency.

The state says it will not grant the Waccamaw group a reprieve until the agency's board makes strides to fix irregularities found in a state compliance audit. The irregularities included board members interfering in the day-to-day operations, using their position on the board to help friends and improper elections to their board.

The local agency also must address the recent violation of their bylaws in firing their former director Elizabeth Fryar, according to Cooper.

Fryar's performance review was not placed on the Waccamaw EOC board agenda April 27, the day Fryar was fired.

The agency's bylaws require at least 10 days notice when dealing with the position of the executive director, Cooper said.

The board did amend the agenda minutes before the meeting and said they were going into executive session for a "personnel matter" which is also a violation of the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The state's FOIA law requires public boards to state the specific position being addressed in executive session.

"Given what they have done, I don't know how they can go back and take corrective action," Cooper said. "I am open to suggestions from the board."

The Waccamaw board has a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the executive director.

Interim Director Wilhelmina Whitfield said she did not know exactly what the board planned to discuss, and board Chairman Zach Grate could not be reached for comment.

In the meantime, the agency is dealing with another personnel slip-up involving its executive board. Before a December 2009 meeting to elect officers, board members were once again not given an agenda 10 days prior, as required by their bylaws. The elections did not take place before the full board, and one position was filled without receiving a majority of the vote.

Because the executive board was selected improperly, any contracts or decisions they have made since may not be valid, Cooper said.

The Waccamaw EOC plans to hold new elections on May 25.