Waccamaw EOC told to drop official

The state of South Carolina is recommending that Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council board member Abdullah Mustafa be removed from the board for continued misuse of power.

The recommendation is part of the S.C. Office of Economic Opportunity's response to a Waccamaw EOC quality improvement plan submitted to the state to correct things found in a March audit of the agency.

Mustafa said he thinks OEO Director Louise Cooper should stay out of the day-to-day operations of the agency's board and called her actions in overseeing it "obnoxious."

"I will continue to do it," Mustafa said of the state's finding that he visited an EOC client's house and complained to EOC staff about the work that had been done. "Make that clear. It's my duty when I get complaints from my constituents."

Waccamaw EOC 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 OEO response said that the board members should inform the community of the agency's services, but that things such as visiting clients' homes to inspect work contracted or done by the agency, bringing clients in for service and demanding service for specific clients is not within their responsibilities.

Interfering with the agency's programmatic functions is prohibited by federal guidelines, the response said. "Further, there is clearly a willful intent because this sort of interference with the agency's operations continues."

The response also said that board member Isabella McKnight wanted to retaliate against Waccamaw EOC staff when she asked for the identities of those who complained against board members in the March audit.

"What I'm saying is that they were the ones who started it," the response quotes McKnight, "whomever [Cooper] got this from and if wasn't legal on document then I'm saying we have it brought to the forefront. Don't hide individuals."

The response said the only reason McKnight could want the names "would be to retaliate against those reporters."

McKnight said she had no comment.

The agency's board and the state office have been at odds since the audit, released on March 26, found a number of problems centered around the board. Besides interfering in the agency's day-to-day operations, the audit also said that elections for some new board members were not held under rules outlined in the agency's bylaws.

The response said some of the deficiencies were corrected in the quality improvement plan, but noted that at least some were fixed by changing the bylaws. The response said that changing bylaws to suit the questionable situations is a sign of weak internal controls, "a theme for the WEOC board."

The agency has 30 days to answer the deficiencies stated in the response.

The state at one point put the agency on a reimbursement funding status because it was concerned about the proper use of the federal funds the agency spends for low-income residents in the counties it serves. The reimbursement funding meant the agency could not function because it did not have the cash on hand to pay bills and then submit them to the state for reimbursement, Cooper said. The state was close to declaring the agency in default of grant agreements, effectively shutting it down.

Days after the reimbursement status was issued, it was rescinded because of the heat and the need of Waccamaw EOC clients to pay electric bills, according to Cooper.

The response further criticized the length of time the board took to submit its quality improvement plan and said that it was part of the proof that the board was trying to avoid compliance.

"The sluggish response of the WEOC Board is a major concern," the response said, "and failure to take the necessary corrective action will result in termination of the grant."