Turmoil hits anti-poverty group as report challenges contracts

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) – A poverty alleviation agency in Alabama’s most populous county has lost its contract to run the county’s Head Start program for underprivileged preschoolers and tells local officials that ‘She needs an injection of $ 3 million to avoid going bankrupt after temporarily missing payroll.

The Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity fired executive director Sharon Myles on November 1 after a report alleged financial inconsistencies in contracts with five people and Myles had a personal relationship with one of the subcontractors.

Myles denies any wrongdoing.

“I know the truth and tried to correct the difficulties but never had the full support of the board,” she told WBRC-TV.

However, board chairman Gary Richardson, also mayor of Midfield, told local media that the board had authorized him to file an ethics complaint against Myles, alleging misuse of the state and federal government money.

Last week, the federal Head Start program told the committee it was handing oversight of the preschool program to another agency. This sparked layoffs for more than 250 Head Start workers in Jefferson County. They can reapply for their new job, but there is no guarantee that they will be hired.

The other main functions of the agency are the administration of utilities and rental assistance, as well as house weatherization projects.

Richardson said Myles was fired after responding unsatisfactorily to the allegations. It is not known if an outside agency is investigating.

“She has retained full control of this organization,” said Richardson. “She was the director of Head Start, the executive director and the quasi-chief financial officer because she fired two financial officers in the span of a year, then brought her own financial consultants,” said Richardson .

The committee wants Birmingham and Jefferson County to give it $ 3 million to cover its deficit, but local officials are skeptical.

“The county is more concerned with its service to citizens,” said Jimmie Stephens, chairman of the Jefferson County commission. “We would be very reluctant to add more money to the JCCEO coffers.”

The agency mixed funds after missing payroll, but Richardson said future paychecks remained uncertain.

The report that triggered Myles’ dismissal was prepared for the board of directors by attorney Thomas W. Scroggins.

AL.com reports that Scroggins told the board that a man named Thompson “Tommy” Nsuk was hired by the committee a month after Myles became executive director. Facilities manager Charlie Vargas, who resigned on July 30, said Myles told him that she and Nsuk were in a relationship and were planning to tie the knot. Vargas said he was forced to report to Nsuk and was asked to come and pick Nsuk to work at a house in Gardendale where Myles lived. Nsuk was paid at least $ 1,800 a week and sometimes a lot more.

The minutes show Myles told the board that Nsuk and others were hired with federal coronavirus relief money and said Nsuk “is a longtime family friend who ‘she let her address be used to receive mail from time to time.

Another questioned contract was with Reverend Lawrence Jackson to serve as a behavior specialist for $ 5,000 per month. The committee also rented space from the Jackson Church for $ 10,000 per month. Directors of two Head Start centers said Jackson did not do any work, but Jackson said he did the work and said the committee leased free space at his church.

“I’m not perfect though, man, but I love my community and if I didn’t think I was qualified for this job, (Myles) couldn’t have gotten me to accept it,” Jackson said.

The report also criticized a temporary financial director paid nearly $ 80,000 in one month, a bilingual education specialist who was provided with an agency car, and the irregular hiring of Nsuk’s son as a caretaker. , including $ 1,859.34 over two weeks, which would translate into 62 hours of work per week.

The five independent contractors were made redundant on November 1.

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