Waccamaw EOC paperwork comes due

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council needs to send the state written documentation today of actions the agency board took at a Tuesday meeting or the state will start the process to close the agency, the director of the state oversight office said Thursday afternoon.

"They need to give us the documentation of the steps they've taken," said Louise Cooper, director of the S.C. Office of Economic Opportunity.

Cooper said it appears that the board has satisfied the immediate state concerns cited in a March audit of the agency, but she has had no direct communication from the board or the agency that the steps were actually taken. Her office has reviewed an audio tape of the meeting, but she said some of it was not recorded clearly enough for her to be able to determine some of the details of the board's actions.

At the meeting, board members voted to accept the results of special elections last week on the board terms of Abdullah Mustafa and Wade Sessions, who the agency said were improperly elected when firstvoted onto the board.

Voters in the special elections rejected Mustafa's board membership and accepted that of Sessions.

The board's actions at the meeting removed Mustafa from the group. His name was taken off the agency's website listing of board members Thursday.

Plans already have been made to keep the agency's services going in case the state begins the termination process, Cooper said.

The agency distributes about $9 million annually from federal grants to thousands of low-income residents in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties for things such as weatherization of homes, rent and mortgage assistance.

A termination process could take months.

The state cited a number of board and board member deficiencies in the audit that included improper elections of board members and interference by board members in the day-to-day activities of the agency.

Mustafa was among those found to interfere in day-to-day agency operations. The other board members who did so have told the state they won't again, Cooper said, and have attended some board training sessions. There is no evidence from the agency that they are any longer interfering improperly, Cooper said.

Mustafa, on the other hand, was open in his intention not to stop interfering.

Whether the documentation has been or is being prepared to send to Cooper could not be determined even by some board members.

Sessions, for instance, said Thursday he didn't know if the documentation was to be sent to Cooper by today's deadline.

Zach Grate, board chairman, and Wilhelmena Whitaker, acting agency director, did not return phone calls Thursday. The two have been designated as the only spokespeople for the board and the agency.

Even if the documentation arrives, Cooper said the agency still has two other issues it must work on to satisfy the findings of the audit. The board must be constituted properly, she said, and all vacant officer spots on the board must be filled.

Cooper wasn't sure how many open officer seats there are, but Mustafa was its second vice chairman. The board has scheduled another election to fill a vacant seat for the Myrtle Beach area and plans to discuss scheduling an election to fill vacant officer seats at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Cooper said the state gave the agency 60 days beyond today's deadline to complete reconstitution of the board and election of board officers.

Should the agency survive, it may still face a lawsuit as a result of the board's firing of executive director Beth Fryar at Tuesday's meeting. Henrietta Golding, Fryar's attorney, wrote agency attorney Ralph Wilson that it is illegal to fire anyone on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which Fryar has been on for more than two weeks.

Sessions said he did not want to comment on why he voted for the firing.

Mustafa, at the time still a board member, voted against it. He said he supported Fryar's firing, but saw no reason to do it illegally.

He said Wednesday that he faults Fryar for not doing more to find new grant money to expand the scope of services the agency offers. But he said other board members are also to blame for failing to provide Fryar formal directions to seek the grants.