The Cookson Hills Community Action Foundation Inc. office in Stilwell closed July 11, when the contract for a part-time employee was cancelled. The office was the last business office for the foundation, which operated several assistance programs, but then ran into complaints of non-compliance from funding agencies and allegations of bad accounting.
Darrell Neale, reporter the Stilwell Democrat-Journal, reported on July 11 the last remaining employee at the Cookson Hills Community Foundation, Toni Andrews who had been working 20 hours a week since May to answer phones, was told by foundation board members that since the organization has no income, her services would be terminated.
An office at 212 S. Elm in Sallisaw has been closed since the fall, when allegations first arose.
Cookson Hills Community Action Foundation’s programs have mostly been taken over by others. The Foster Grannies program was taken over by Community Development of Denver and the Head Start program was administered by DeQueen-Mena Educational Co-operative in Arkansas.
Officials with the Ki BOIS Community Action Foundation told Sequoyah County Commissioners earlier this year they would bid on the two programs and hopefully return the programs’ administration to Sequoyah County. The Ki BOIS Foundation was contacted by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which asked Ki BOIS to take over several other programs previously administered by the Cookson Hills Foundation. The programs include the weatherization program and Ki BOIS now takes applications for that program.
Ki BOIS was asked to take over the programs on Jan. 1, Carroll Huggins, Ki BOIS executive director, said.
In the meantime, little is known what will happen to the remnants of the Cookson Hills Community Action Foundation.
Neale said Tuesday he had been told that investigators took documents and records from the Stilwell office, but no one know who exactly confiscated those documents. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, contacted by Your TIMES earlier this year, said they knew of no investigation into the foundation. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Muskogee said that, even if an investigation was underway, neither they or the FBI could speak about it.
Your TIMES learned late last year that the Cookson Hills Community Action Foundation’s expenditures for the Foster Grandparent Program — which was grant money — was being questioned. Expenditures for the months when schools were not in session were questioned, as were charges for office supplies during July 2010. The July claim was denied, Patricia Heer, program field director for the Department of Human Services Aging Services Division, notified the foundation that what remained of the $573,007 grant — for April 2008 to March 31, 2011 — would from then on be dispersed in monthly allotments.
There were also complaints of accounting procedures that were indecipherable, no policies or procedures to make draw downs from the grant und, volunteer hours not reconciled with stipends reported in the general ledger, and incomplete records.
At the time, Cleon Harrell, former Sequoyah County Commissioner, was the director of Cookson Hills Community Action Foundation. The Tahlequah Daily Press reported last year that Harrell had asked for sick leave and left the post in October.
In June, Neale reported for the Stilwell Democrat-Journal that the foundation’s Bridges Out of Poverty program, for the homeless and those in need, was also closed down. That program involved a number of small trailers, originally provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for hurricane victims. Later it was said FEMA found the trailers to contain formaldehyde, which could be dangerous to human health. A number of those trailers sat on Harrell property north of Sallisaw, but they have since disappeared.
About the foundation’s April meeting, Neale reported foundation attorney Lloyd Cole told the three members of the foundation board attending a board meeting that the federal government General Services Administration ordered the foundation to stop the Bridges Out of Poverty program, since it had not been authorized, and to stop taking payments for the trailers from the applicants.
Cole recommended the trailers be returned, apparently to FEMA.
Ray Watts, Sequoyah County District 1 County Commissioner, now serves on the foundation board. He replaces retired Commissioner Bruce Tabor. Neale reported Watts asked what those people who had paid for the trailers should do.
Cole said they might have a right to be reimbursed, but he called the situation “a can of worms.”
Neale reported that at the same meeting, Robert St. Pierre, a certified public accountant, told the foundation board that the software used to do the foundation’s accounting was never set up to do financial statements.
St. Pierre told the board, “It could take me months, and I am not sure I could do it then.”
He said the foundation faces about $15,000 in penalties and fines for not making payments or sending in reports on time.