published Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Audit cites Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition payouts

  • photo
    Mary Simons, Executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition listens during a meeting at City Hall in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Amended forensic review
Amended forensic review

The former executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition gave herself an unauthorized raise of $280 per period, which led to $4,481 in unauthorized salary over 16 pay periods from November 2011 to July 2012, according to a forensic review.

Financial records from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development also show wage increases during 2012 for most of the coalition staff.

Questions about the nonprofit's finances arose after Mary Simons resigned in November. The revelation in December that the coalition improperly used money from the Grateful Gobbler walk prompted board member Betsy McCright, who co-chaired the Gobbler event, to resign in protest.

McCright asked if the coalition also used federal funds to pay salaries.

The coalition's treasurer, Erin Creal, acknowledged in January that about $20,000 of the estimated $100,000 raised during the walk was spent on salaries and overhead and providing assistance to the 24-hour homeless shelter at Chattanooga Community Kitchen.

The coalition initially stated that all proceeds from the Thanksgiving Day fundraiser would be used to help people who are homeless or near-homeless by providing rental assistance, transportation and case management services.

But the audit by Philippe T. Lindsay, chief financial officer for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, found the coalition was using Gobbler money to operate its offices and pay its staff.

"Had the excess proceeds from the Grateful Gobbler walk been unavailable, it is quite possible that there would not have been enough funds in the SunTrust operating account to meet payroll obligations on Dec. 28, 2012," according to the report.

The coalition board asked for the audit after McCright resigned.

Bank statements from the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, obtained through Tennessee's Open Records laws, show $96,828.92 in its account on Nov. 26, three days after the Grateful Gobbler. By Dec. 31, the account balance dropped to $3,442.89.

Lindsay also noted the salary boost for Simons. Simons, who was contacted by telephone, said Thursday that information concerning her alleged $10,000 raise is not true, but did not comment further.

The audit also found that "the existence of over $200,000 of accumulated unallocated general expenses since the agency's inception has caused [the coalition] to rely heavily on Grateful Gobbler proceeds to continue operations."

Winter wind blasted across the faces of several homeless people this week while they crouched against buildings and huddled on stoops waiting for the Community Kitchen's shelter to open.

The Gobbler money would have been better spent providing more funding so the 24-hour shelter can remain open, said 30-year-old James Tyler, who became homeless in December after his aunt died of cancer.

Some Gobbler funds went to the shelter, but more money is needed.

The shelter closes for the year after Feb. 28.

"This place shouldn't close," said Tyler. "It's still going to be cold. April is going to be wet. There's going to be a lot of people in tents."

The auditor admonished the coalition during its February board meeting not to hire another director of finance nor executive director because it doesn't have money to pay for the positions.

The board is not pursuing a finance director, but it plans to hire an executive director by April 1.

The position pays $60,000, which is more than $20,000 under what Simons was paid.

During the February board meeting, Mary Ellen Galloway questioned the salaries of some staff and asked if they seemed high.

Creal said grant funds would cover every staffed position at the coalition.

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce online report, coalition employee LaToyAllen's wages increased from $856 a month to $2,702.2 a month during the last quarter of 2012. Allen is listed on the coalition's website as a permanent housing specialist.

The coalition's HMIS system administrator, Victoria Freeman, saw a salary bump from $1,690 a month to $1,878.22 a month during the last quarter.

Creal did not respond Friday to an email on Allen's and Freeman's wages.

The Chattanooga Community Foundation will be the depositor for the 2013 Grateful Gobbler funds. Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition board approved allowing the foundation to be the overseer of the funds at its board meeting this month.

The goal is to be more transparent about how the funds are spent.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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