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A Conspiracy of Silence Killed JESCA

Paul C. Hunt, who teaches at the School of Social Welfare at Florida International University, offered personal observation on the downfall of James E.Scott Community Association:

    The troubles at JESCA probably never had to occur.  While you focus on Dorrin Rolle, and also include the late Archie Hardwick, this is a failure much bigger than these two individuals.  Where has the Board of Directors of JESCA been?  Where have the funding sources been?  The JESCA situation is a case of reverse institutional racism.

    In the late 1980s, I was the director of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Dade and Monroe Counties.  At that time, the AAA was a component of the United Way of Dade County.  The AAA is now the Alliance for Aging.  JESCA was one of the AAA provider agencies and has continued to be a provider agency until its demise, providing a variety of services to the elderly in their target area including congregate meals and transportation.

    During my tenure as AAA director, JESCA fell behind in its reporting and other contract requirements.  Once they fell behind more than 90 days, the contact obligated the AAA to suspend further payments until JESCA could again become in compliance with their contract with the AAA.  I remember very clearly suspending the JESCA payment because of non-compliance.  In less than an hour, the then-President (CEO) of the United Way (not the current CEO) called me into her office and demanded that I immediately release the suspended payment to JESCA.

    I explained that JESCA was out of compliance and could not receive any further reimbursements until they again came into compliance, all according to the contract that they had signed.  She threatened to fire me.  I asked her secretary to draft a brief memo for the United Way CEO to sign that directed me, in writing, to release the check to JESCA immediately despite the fact that JESCA was out of compliance with their contract.  She signed the memo and I released the check, reluctantly.  She further ordered me to never withhold a payment to JESCA under any circumstance and failure to follow this order would mean my immediate firing. JESCA continued to be in and out of compliance.

    Monitoring visits uncovered other irregularities.  I always passed these issues on to the United Way CEO who continued to be my boss.  Nothing was ever done to remedy these situations.

    We are fortunate to have in our community a number of very well-run agencies with Boards of Directors who understand their responsibilities and take these responsibilities very seriously.  However, I can tell you that there are still some agencies out there who have the clear potential to be the next JESCA.  I blame this not only on the Executive Director of these organizations, but also on the members of the Boards of Directors.  Even from my current limited perch, I can see agencies with very weak Boards of Directors.

    Our community thrives on appearance and personal connections.  Our community devalues integrity and education.  So, many people join the boards of non-profits because of appearance or because a 'buddy' has asked them to serve on the board (sometimes the Governor even makes these appointments).  Many of these individuals do not take their responsibilities very seriously.  And then they are surprised when a crisis erupts at the agency.

    And the funding sources - from Miami-Dade County to the United Way to the many foundations to the various other funding sources - often seem as surprised as are many of the members of the effected Boards of Directors.  The funding organizations need to monitor the grants they make.  Often the funding organization can provide help to correct some problems in a given agency.  But the funding organizations have the power and responsibility to require that the subject agency perform according to the grant conditions.  Where have these funding organizations been for the last decade or more in relation with JESCA?

    I have served on a number of non-profit agency Boards of Directors for many years.  When the Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade County 'crashed and burned' in the late 1990, several of us were asked to resurrect the Coalition from its ashes.  We did.  We carefully built a Board of Directors of very responsible, committed individuals.  I chaired the search committee for a new executive director and we carefully hired a seasoned professional who still serves as the organization's executive director.  I am again the board president.  Every month the board receives a written account of our funds and there is an explanation by the executive director and the associate director for administration.  The board asks questions until everyone is satisfied that they understand the status of the organization.  The treasurer spends additional time to review all of the finances and transactions.  All disbursements are formally signed-off by a series of staff, ending up with a sign-off by the executive director.  Any check over $1,500 must be approved and counter-signed by an approved board member (e.g., treasurer or president).  I do not see how any improper disbursement could ever occur.  It is always possible but it would take a conspiracy of significant size.

    In summary, JESCA appears to have been abused by Dorrin Rolle (and before him, Archie Hardwick) but he had conspirators in the Board of Directors - perhaps not active conspirators but conspirators through silence and neglect.  Parents who do not feed their children are charged with neglect.  Boards of Directors who neglect their agencies need to be charged with neglect.

    Finally, the government and foundations who granted JESCA funding, need also to charged with neglect.     Who loses in all this?  The clients who desperately need the services.  It is always the clients who seem to lose and lose greatly.  

     Hunt has been an member of the adjunct faculty at FIU since 1989 and am currently in the PhD program in Social Welfare.  He holds a combined Master of Social Planning and Master of Social Work from Boston College and a BA in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. (“ I confess that I am originally from Boston - living here for the last 24 years.”)  He is a W.K. Kellogg Fellow in International Social and Economic Development and have been involved with various development activities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

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