As a story in today's Observer details, Mecklenburg Open Door launched an investigation four months ago into financial allegations, including whether its former director misused the organization's money.
The non-profit, which has received more than $19 million in government aid during the past five years, came under scrutiny recently after a federal housing agency faulted the organization for failing to keep adequate records of one of its housing programs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also said the county failed to provide adequate oversight of its contract with Mecklenburg Open Door.
The county's Area Mental Health department plans to sever all ties with the nonprofit by Nov. 30.
Below, read statements from Mecklenburg County's Area Mental Health department director; Ed Payton, former Mecklenburg Open Door executive director, and Jim Cook, president of the board of Mecklenburg Open Door, in response to questions from the Observer.
Ed Payton, former executive director of Mecklenburg Open Door:
"The DWI experiences and tax liens were from a difficult period in my life while I dealt with episodic mental health issues. Those experiences, although traumatic, gave me great empathy for people, like me, who are consumers of mental health services in Mecklenburg County.
"I acknowledge that I did violate agency policy and, in the opinion of MOD, this action warranted my termination. Since the details of this are personnel issues, I decline to discuss them.
"During my seven years at MOD the agency defined the words innovation, partner, and peer. We made a point to sit around the table with the County and other agencies to solve problems, discuss differences and, most important, to improve our collective efforts to provide better services to adults with mental health issues. During that time, plain and simple, MOD was willing to partner with Mecklenburg County to advance mental health services when few were willing to do so -- during a time when the State of North Carolina was paralyzed in its own inability to transform the mental health system. It wasn’t about money; it was about service.
"I left Mecklenburg Open Door due to my own shortcomings and mental health issues. Leaving such a fine agency and the product of my hard work was painful, but I was proud to leave an agency of merit; I was proud of its value to Mecklenburg County."
Grayce Crockett, director of county's Area Mental Health department
In late June 2010, the Board Chair of Mecklenburg Open Door notified Area Mental Health regarding some financial irregularities that had occurred in their organization and indicated that they were undergoing a thorough financial audit. AMH took immediate remedial action. A Request for Proposals was issued on September 17th in an open process to select another provider in order to ensure continuity of services for consumers.
Editor's Note: Crockett's statement was in response to the following questions e-mailed by Observer reporters on Wednesday:
Dear Ms. Crockett:
We’re planning to publish a story Friday about Mecklenburg Open Door’s recent internal investigation into financial and administrative problems at their agency. The investigation, which began in May, has concluded that MOD policy was violated. Board President Jim Cook has shared with us information about that investigation and its conclusions, but we think it’s important to get your input as well since your department has contracted with MOD – and since so much public money was involved.
We’ve also heard from a number of sources, including current and former MOD employees, that the investigation examined allegations that Ed Payton misused agency money. We also understand that MOD’s internal investigation into these matters contributed to the county’s decision to sever its relationship with MOD.
Here are a few questions:
-What violations at MOD have you been made aware of?
-When were those violations brought to your agency’s attention?
-In a Sept. 10 email, you told area mental health employees that “problems with MOD have surfaced not related to the Shelter Plus Care program. As a result, we will be terminating our contract with them at the end of November.” Please discuss what those problems were.
-What steps are AMH and the county taking in response to the MOD’s internal investigation, aside from severing its relationship with the agency? Does the county plan to investigate whether county was misspent? And does it plan to refer this matter to law enforcement agencies?
-What else can you tell us about this?
As always, we’d prefer to talk to you in person about this because Mecklenburg Open Door was a major provider for Area Mental Health. But if you need to respond in writing, please send an email to me -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- and to April Bethea -- email@example.com. We would need to hear from you no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23.
Jim Cook, president of board of directors, Mecklenburg Open Door
Early this summer, the Board of Directors (BOD) was informed of an allegation of violations of MOD policies. Staff investigation indicated that these allegations had merit. The BOD immediately began an investigation, and also concluded that MOD policies had been violated. In June, an external accountant conducted additional analyses to which were just completed this week. On June 17, the Executive Director began a leave of absence, and on August 3, the Executive Director left the employment of MOD, with an Interim Executive Director appointed August 4. On August 23, the Chief Financial Officer left MOD; on August 25, a new CFO started work.
In sum, over the past four months, the BOD of MOD became aware of a number of financial and administrative problems. We have investigated and taken appropriate action to address these problems. As a direct result of these investigations, three staff persons are no longer part of MOD. We have taken a number of steps to improve our administrative and fiscal controls. We are cooperating with the county regarding investigation into Shelter Plus Care, and will be working to facilitate the transition of our programs to a new provider, when that provider is chosen. In the meantime, we're working hard to ensure that our consumers continue to be served, with as little disruption as possible.
Despite these serious problems, it is important to note that, throughout this series of events, our staff have continued to serve our clients in the professional manner that has been a standard at Mecklenburg Open Door for over 25 years. We continue to be focused, primarily, on our mission of providing the best services possible. We remain confident that our consumers, citizens of Mecklenburg County with mental health issues, will continue to receive quality care and support.