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Official: Public access to SCOPE may be ‘a little tricky’



Published: Wed, March 14, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel, an attorney, says it might be “a little tricky” for the commissioners to require private organizations such as SCOPE to provide public access to its budgets and board meetings.

But by virtue of the commissioners’ having control over the distribution of money SCOPE and other organizations receive from the senior citizens levy, the commissioners should be able to influence SCOPE to provide the public with financial information and board access.

“We have leverage because they get a lot of money, but they should do it anyway because they’re dealing with public money,” Heltzel said of SCOPE.

Commissioner Frank Fuda said he believes the commissioners would be unable to impose public-access requirements on SCOPE because only a portion of SCOPE’s operations are dependent on money from Trumbull County taxpayers.

“We can’t tell them how to operate,” Fuda said.

Though the commissioners ran into some problems while working with SCOPE during the early years of the levy, Fuda said he thinks hiring a levy administrator in October 2009, Diane Drawl, has helped keep problems to a minimum.

A group of senior citizens who attend the Cortland SCOPE center raised questions starting in January about the finances for SCOPE Inc. SCOPE is a 50-year-old nonprofit organization that provides services to senior citizens. SCOPE stands for Senior Citizen’s Opportunity for Personal Endeavor.

SCOPE receives about $700,000 per year from the Trumbull County seniors levy and an additional $600,000 annually from state and federal sources.

SCOPE’s total income is between $1.7 million and $2.4 million per year, according to the organization’s tax return.

The group from Cortland SCOPE had concerns about the restroom at the center and went Jan. 30 to talk to the board of directors about it, but the board refused to allow them to attend its meeting.

The board also refused to allow the group to see minutes of the board’s meetings or to see SCOPE budgets.

Cyndie Hammers, one of the Cortland SCOPE members who first voiced complaints about the agency denying the public access to board meetings and finances, said Janet Schweitzer, SCOPE’s executive director, and Genevieve Bauman, board chairwoman, contacted her last Thursday and asked her if she was interested in being a board member.

Hammers said she hasn’t decided yet, but she’s concerned about the motives behind the invitation and is concerned that SCOPE might just be interested in gathering personal information about her, because they asked her to provide a resume.

Hammers said SCOPE has also provided her with information about the Cortland SCOPE’s finances in recent weeks, which she appreciates.

Fuda said says he doesn’t think it’s that difficult to get problems worked out as long as you’re willing to meet with the parties involved.

“You’ve just got to get people together and solve it, really,” Fuda said, adding that he’s been told the SCOPE board has plans to make administrative changes in order to improve communication.

Fuda said SCOPE is also looking at a possible new location for Cortland SCOPE with better restroom facilities.

Commissioner Dan Polivka said he would be willing to look into the possibility of requiring SCOPE to make its records and meetings more open to the public and would be willing to ask the prosecutor’s office to advise him on whether it would be legal.

“I’d be willing to look at that with the prosecutor’s office and my colleagues,” Polivka said.

James McFarland, a Warren funeral home director and SCOPE board member, says the attention paid to SCOPE in recent weeks is unfair because SCOPE “has done so much good. People couldn’t even comprehend what it’s done.”

There has been some discontent among employees in recent months, McFarland said, and he suspects that is the reason for the discontent that has bubbled to the surface.

Hammers said she and her Cortland SCOPE friends are not asking for access to information about SCOPE’s finances to help employees with their complaints about the agency.


Comments

1knowstruth(6 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Ms. Hammers is right to be concerned both for the members, staff at SCOPE and for herself. It is doubtful the offer was sincere as evidenced by the letter to the editor written by the board. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. There is a big difference between the GREAT GOOD Scope has done in spite of it's administration & the issues and problems that occurred in the past and still are occurring because of it's administration (which there is a history of ethical, financial and professional issues). It is obvious Mr. McFarland is getting the majority of his information from Ms. Schweitzer for the following reasons. 1. He is misinformed, evidenced by what he has has written and said the issues are 2. Outsiders, Members & Employees have been banned from speaking to board members and "punished" by Ms. Schweitzer and members of the board who do not want to listen (one excuse is they are volunteers and don't want to be bothered however it's their job as board members to ensure SCOPE is run ethically, legally and in the membership & staffs best interests. If they are unable or unwilling to do their jobs then they need to resign). 3. The board is well aware that these issues are not from disgruntled people but are brought on by knowledgeable sincere people with legitimate and real concerns, who are experienced in how SCOPE has been managed and mismanaged. Things never should have gone this far, the financial, legal and ethical situation would not have deteriorated had they listened and acted years ago when they first were informed of the issues. The solution in situations like this: Replace and hold accountable the Executive Director, accountant and those board members who have kept a blind eye to what has been going on, as well as those who knew and failed to act (replace with outside, objective & ethical individuals). There needs to be at least a thorough and complete forensic accounting done, they need to be honest, transparent, publicly acknowledge and apologize to the funders, members, employees and allies that were targeted, intimidated, retaliated against & alienated by the administration. They were justified in the concerns they raised. The people have suffered too long & needlessly due to the actions and inactions of a few. Then and ONLY then will an organization's financial and professional situation improve.

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2sam1552(8 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Scope board members,
Let's not cloud the issue with talk about restrooms or private meetings, etc. Lets look at facts under the current management team.
1. $90,000 in misappropriated funds from the senior levy that was required to be paid back.
2. Refusal of oversight by the AAA11 to monitor Levy funds as agreed to contractually. It is clear that only organizations who have something to hide are adverse to oversight.
3. Employees who have concerns about policy and procedures and not given a forum to speak.
4. Refusal to assist consumers and new Levy providers in a smooth transition of services. Contrary to Managements actions, there were many legal ways to accomplish this, if they so desired. This action led to many seniors to be without much needed services to which they had become dependent.

These are just a few issues that have been swept under the rug. Show compassion for the seniors that depend on these services. They deserve to live with dignity.

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3knowstruth(6 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, Drone. : )

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4knowstruth(6 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” Albert Einstein. Aren't there any state or federal agencies willing or able to investigate thoroughly ? It appears the board members have not cared to take the time to do it.

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5knowstruth(6 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Here is the Ohio Atty General's publication on responsibilities of non profit board members. It's clear in the publication that due diligence requires taking the responsibility seriously, not allowing one person to have absolute power and control especially over finances and would prevent many of the problems. There can be severe consequences to trustees for breaches of fiduciary duty. Trustees can be held individually responsible to charities for breaches of fiduciary standards.
www.delmarlearning.com/companions/con...

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6maam2u(2 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Now that Nita James has been terminated, who is going to head up the Follies,arrange the dinners, Christmas gift baskets or any of the multitude of other positions that she has filled in the past 15 years???? Janet Swietzer or her side kick Jane Skelton? What a joke and terrible judgement to terminate a lady who has given up to 100 hours a week, often times without pay, to insure that seniors were treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Is this how Scope awards their faithful,good employees by terminating them without cause? What an irresponsible decision. In light of the arrogance shown to the public by this director are we really surprised that she has made another stellar decision? How much longer is this kind of action going to be tolerated?

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7knowstruth(6 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree, maam2u. This is absolutely proof of the allegations about the Schweitzer administration's unethical behavior, retaliation and the board's lack of proper oversight of the executive director's actions. Juanita James and her husband (who had been awarded the Dorthy Klein award for his dedication to SCOPE's seniors) have always acted in the best interests of SCOPE's seniors and the community, even if that meant going without themselves or putting their neck out for the RIGHT reasons. So have many of the seniors, staff & volunteers. Schweitzer and those who defend her must be held accountable. Attorneys, a judge, business professionals, etc who are on the board better make sure they are willing to face the negative consequences of their allowing Schweitzer to do all that she (they) have done wrong. The truth will come out. Times up. SAVE SCOPE from the enemies within because the seniors deserve to be served and the hardworking volunteers and staff deserve to be respected for their dedication and not be forced to work in a hostile environment .

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8maam2u(2 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree wholeheartedly Knowstruth. The Seniors do deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and they also need to have an organization where they can be provided the opportunity to remain active, ran by people who truly do care and not by a select group of self serving overseers who feel that they are above accountability. Ms Schweitzer was correct in her decision that someone must go, but she chose the wrong individual, She should have removed herself and her sidekick Ms Skelton and left those that have proven their integrity through their actions over the years to carry on service to our seniors.You are again correct that the enemy is within at Scope and they need to be rooted out and removed before the seniors lose another hard working and sincere advocate.

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