Questions asked about nonprofit's operation

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 05:04 AM

Heated exchanges between and among Lee County Commissioners and the executive director of a local nonprofit peppered the county commission meeting Monday evening.

The Lee County Board of Commissioners requested Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action Executive Director Marie Watson to address some of their concerns regarding the area nonprofit during the Monday meeting.

After extensive back and forth — primarily between Commissioner Jim Womack and Watson — concerning the number of nonprofit staff members, the number of families receiving support from the nonprofit and the amount spent on travel, Commissioner Robert Reives interjected.

"What is this about?" Reives said to Womack. "I just want to ask you, 'What is this about?' I have been here for years and I have never seen any program director treated in this manner."

Womack said he was trying to get his questions and concerns addressed as a "good steward of the taxpayer's money."

"I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure that that money is getting the best value," he said. "That we are actually getting a return (on investment). ... That is a simple question."

Reives asked why is was necessary to put Watson "through this humiliating process."

Watson said she was surprised by the amount of attention her programs were receiving from the commissioners, and said they'd been working in the county since 1974.

"We have worked very hard and very diligently to serve low income families in Lee County," Watson said.

The discussion stemmed from a Jan. 6 meeting when commissioners tabled approving a federal block grant for the organization, and only approved it at a later meeting after concern was raised and Watson was requested to answer their questions.  During Monday's meeting, Watson said the commissioners weren't required to approve the grant but, instead, comment on it.

Watson said she'd be able to meet with Womack and any other commissioners individually to discuss her organization. Womack asked Watson to respond to 10 questions he had previously submitted, which ranged from the number of families who received direct monetary assistance to why there was "so much money set aside for local travel and conferences each year."

In other matters, Commissioners:

* Approved a Substantial Equivalency Resolution for the Sandhills Center, allowing Sandhills to submit an application to the state to make the organization's human resources system be recognized as equivalent to the state.

* Received an update on the Voluntary Agriculture District program within the county.

* Hired four new workers for the Lee County Department of Social Services to lessen the burden of the department's current employees as Medicaid is introduced into the NC Fast program.

* Reviewed a draft policy and set of procedures for a revolving loan fund program for the county.