Doubt hovers over Waccamaw EOC

The director of South Carolina's Office of Economic Opportunity said she was not sure Wednesday how many of the office's directives were addressed Tuesday night by the board of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council.

Louise Cooper, the state office director, said none had been addressed before the board meeting and she had not yet had a chance to review what happened at the meeting in Georgetown to determine whether any were fulfilled.

"Some of the things they may feel they have done, we may not," she said.

The agency serves thousands of residents in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties with services such as weatherization and low-income heating help, among other things, for those who qualify.

The state office originally gave a July 4 deadline for addressing the directives, but changed that to July 6 because of the holiday.

In a March audit of Waccamaw EOC, the state office cited deficiencies including board interference in the day-to-day operation of the EOC amounting to micromanagement, improper election of board members, failure of board members to provide the OEO with access to records and failure of the board to address employee grievances.

It gave the board until May 10 to comply with the directives. When that did not happen, state office and EOC officials met at a conference that set the new deadline for compliance.

In the meantime, the agency was placed on reimbursement status, meaning the state would not forward any federal program funds to the EOC until money was spent and receipts could document the spending. Because the EOC could not maintain the needed level of services without upfront funding, the state office moved to cancel the agency's federal funding agreements due to insolvency.

But the reimbursement status was rescinded because of the unusually hot weather and needs of low-income clients.

There were opportunities during Tuesday's meeting to address at least some of the directives, but it could not be determined whether proper action wastaken.

For instance, the state office directed the board to review the election of board member John Battiste of Williamsburg County. Board Chairman Zach Grate said during the open meeting that Battiste would retain his seat, but offered no details of the review, which took place before the public meeting.

Grate could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Also during the meeting, Grate offered no date, time or location for the election of representatives to other vacant seats. Rather, he unilaterally tabled an agenda item relating to it and asked the board to affirm that letters of nomination for up to 10 of the 15 board members would not be accepted after Friday.

All nomination letters either are being sent directly to Grate in Georgetown or are forwarded unopened from the EOC's Conway office. The agency's bylaws say the nominations are to be reviewed by a board committee and recommendations made to the full board. The full board is to make the final decisions, but is to know the names of all nominees when deciding.

Five of the board members are elected by residents of the areas they are designated to serve. The state office questioned if board members Abdullah Mustafa and Wade Sessions were properly elected and does not recognize either as properly seated board members. Both, though, continue to sit at the table and vote on board matters.

The agency is still on a kind of probationary status by the state office, despite the restoration of its upfront program funding. The state office could move to cancel the federal funding agreements if the board does not adequately comply with the nine directives.

But the process will take at least two months, if it comes to that, Thomas Welch, senior audit manager of the state office, said Tuesday night.

The process allows for appeals by the EOC board and could drag on for months longer without compliance.

"Failure to take all corrective action will result in the continuance of our termination process," Welch wrote Beth Fryar, Waccamaw EOC executive director, in June. "Action to resolve the issues noted is non-negotiable and must be performed and actions must clearly resolve the noted noncompliance."