Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Read the 'forensic review'

Concerns about misspending at Mecklenburg Open Door arose when an employee gave a written complaint alleging the executive director inappropriately obtained pay advances and used an Open Door credit card and vehicle for personal use.

Former Executive Director Ed Payton admitted to the Observer last week that he violated policy and that it led to his dismissal.

But a financial review released today detailed for the first time what had been described previously as “financial irregularities.”

Click here to read the report.

The report says "all of the above actions were generally admitted by the Executive Director."

- Doug Miller

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jones: mental health director on paid leave

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones announced Friday he has placed Area Mental Health Director Grayce Crockett on temporary paid leave.

The news came on the heels of a report in today’s Observer about an investigation by Mecklenburg Open Door, which contracts with the mental health department, into claims that its former director misused agency money. The investigation has found “financial and administrative problems” and violations of agency policies, according to the president of its board of directors. The Observer also reported that a federal lien had been placed on Open Door for failure to pay more than $53,000 in payroll taxes. -- APRIL BETHEA

Below is a news release sent by the county Friday afternoon:

AMH Director Placed On Leave During Assessment

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry L. Jones Sr. announced today that he has placed Area Mental Health (AMH) Director Grayce Crockett on temporary paid leave effective immediately. AMH Deputy Director Carlos Hernandez has been designated as Acting AMH Director during Ms. Crockett’s leave.

This action allows the Mecklenburg County Manager’s Office to assess all actions taken in connection with Mecklenburg Open Door, as the County terminates its relationship with this organization. This process also will include an assessment of management oversight in AMH regarding its handling of this situation. While on temporary leave, Ms. Crockett is expected to fully cooperate with this assessment, including providing all information she has or knows regarding this matter.

“In addition to my concerns about Area Mental Health’s monitoring oversight of the grant, I have additional concerns that we did not have complete information needed to fully brief the Board,” Jones said Friday. “Therefore, we will dig as deep as we can into Mecklenburg Open Door to determine all the facts and to ensure there is appropriate accountability within Area Mental Health.”

Key facts regarding the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) review of the Shelter Care Plus Program that Mecklenburg Open Door administered for the County are available at www.mecklenburgcountync.gov.

Statements on Mecklenburg Open Door probe

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.

Have information to share? Contact reporters Ames Alexander at aalexander@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5060, and April Bethea at abethea@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-6013.

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 -- aalexander@charlotteobserver.com -- and to April Bethea -- abethea@charlotteobserver.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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read Obama's remarks to the U.N.

President Barack Obama speaks Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly.
Read the full text of President Barack Obama's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly today, as provided by the White House.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The GOP "Pledge to America"

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to offer a blueprint for how they’d dramatically change what they term an "arrogant and out of touch government of self-appointed elites" by pledging to repeal the Obama health care law, continue all Bush-era tax cuts and significantly cut spending.

The agenda, scheduled to be unveiled by GOP leaders at a Virginia lumber and hardware store on Thursday, tries to give voters a clear, pointed choice in November. McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy Wednesday evening.

Read the "Pledge to America" here PDF.

Further reading:

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Transcripts of evidence in Demeatrius Montgomery trial

    On Wednesday the judge presiding over Demeatrius Montgomery's murder trial ruled that copies of some documents submitted to the jury should be made available to the public.

    Judge Forrest Bridges ruled a week after attorneys for The Charlotte Observer and WSOC-TV made motions seeking copies of exhibits presented as evidence, including audiotapes and transcripts of 911 calls and police radio traffic.

    Prosecutors began playing video and audiotapes in open court last week as evidence. Jurors were given transcripts of the recordings, which are at times hard to understand because they contain static, police jargon and unclear speech.

    Transcript of police radio traffic

    Transcript of 911 call

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    E-mails show tension between county and library

    UPDATED 4:55 p.m.: See Observer Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten's response to commenters at the bottom of this post.

    This series of e-mails obtained by the Observer shows tension between Mecklenburg County government leaders and the libraries, which had millions slashed from its budget by county commissioners this year. The cuts forced the closings of three library branches, the reduction of hours at other branches and the layoffs of 187 staff.

    Harry Jones is Mecklenburg's County Manager. John McGillicuddy is Jones' aide and Mecklenburg's General Manager. And Robert "Bob" Sink is a Charlotte lawyer and vice chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

    Read GOP commissioner hopefuls' pledge

    As a story in today's Observer describes, Republican candidates for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners have developed a 14-point "pledge to our citizens" outlining their collective campaign platform. You can read the text of the pledge below.

    The pledge was read during a Monday press conference by the GOP candidates for the three at-large commissioner seats: Jim Pendergraph, Dan Ramirez and Corey Thompson. Ramirez said the pledge had been developed over the past few months and was approved by all the Republican commissioner candidates.

    Click here to get a full list of candidates on this year's ballot. The election is Nov. 2.

    (Republican) Mecklenburg County Commission Candidates
    Pledge to Our Citizens

    Fiscal Accountability and Governance:
    1. We pledge to govern within our means and not abuse the authority to raise and impose taxes.
    2. We pledge to reinstate respect and trust in county government by being open with all commission business not restricted by law.
    3. We pledge to identify and eliminate wasteful spending in every county department, to outsource any county service that can be done more efficiently and cost effectively by an outside provider, and to cease unnecessary services and duplication of services.
    4. We pledge to establish better working relationships with the six municipalities within Mecklenburg County and reduce duplication of services which waste tax dollars.
    5. We pledge to ensure that persons receiving non-emergency services and funding from the county are eligible for those services.
    6. We pledge not to forget our Mecklenburg County veterans who have given so much to ensure all of us the liberties and freedom we enjoy daily.

    Public Safety:
    1. We pledge to work diligently to ensure that our citizens not only feel safe in their respective communities, but are safe.
    2. We pledge to work closely with the Sheriff, police and our court system to ensure adequate resources to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders.
    3. We pledge to work closely with all law enforcement agencies to identify and remove criminal illegal aliens from our county, who are primarily responsible for importing drugs and gang violence into our county.
    4. We pledge, as a board, to pressure the N.C. legislature to provide adequate funding for our district attorney and court system.

    1. We pledge to support our Charlotte Mecklenburg School (CMS) system by providing reasonable funding to accomplish what our citizens expect for the education of our children.
    2. We pledge to support Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in their education efforts to train and re-train our future work force.
    3. We pledge, as a board, to hold the CMS Board of Education accountable for resources, provided by taxpayers, and expect positive results for the financial support provided.
    4. We pledge, as a board, to continue to encourage the Board of Education to privatize segments of the CMS system, including food services, maintenance, transportation, and health services potentially resulting in huge tax dollar savings.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Is your neighborhood on the decline?

    Charlotte's 2010 quality-of-life study shows the largest-ever jump in below-average neighborhood rankings, from 20 neighborhoods to 27.

    The new study, last completed in 2008, reflects the "significant negative impacts on Charlotte" of the national and local economy, the report says.

    "The economic engine of growth and wealth creation has been slowed by a restructuring of the local financial sector and high levels of unemployment," the report says. "Fortunately, by the middle of 2010 economic trends are beginning to shift toward recovery and rebounding."

    The study also shows if neighborhoods are trending up, showing no change or trending down.

    It shows a majority of inner city neighborhoods trending up and large concentrations of southeast Charlotte neighborhoods trending up as well. The two areas with greatest concentrations of no change were east and west Charlotte. Trending down areas were scattered in west and east Charlotte.

    Click here to see if your neighborhood is improving or declining.

    Click here to read the full city report.

    - Doug Miller

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Obama commemorates 9-11

    President Barack Obama stands at the Pentagon Memorial, marking the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. (AP photo)
    Text of President Barack Obama's remarks at the Pentagon, as released by the White House:

    THE PRESIDENT: Secretary Gates. Admiral Mullen and members of the Armed Forces. My fellow Americans. Most of all, to you -- survivors who still carry the scars of tragedy and destruction; to the families who carry in your hearts the memory of the loved ones you lost here.

    For our nation, this is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and -- with God's grace -- a day of unity and renewal.

    We gather to remember, at this sacred hour, on hallowed ground -- at places where we feel such grief and where our healing goes on. We gather here, at the Pentagon, where the names of the lost are forever etched in stone. We gather in a gentle Pennsylvania field, where a plane went down and a "tower of voices" will rise and echo through the ages. And we gather where the Twin Towers fell, a site where the work goes on so that next year, on the 10th anniversary, the waters will flow in steady tribute to the nearly 3,000 innocent lives.

    On this day, it's perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning -- images that are seared into our souls. It's tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly. Yet these memorials, and your presence today, remind us to remember the fullness of their time on Earth.

    They were fathers and mothers, raising their families; brothers and sisters, pursuing their dreams; sons and daughters, their whole lives before them. They were civilians and service members. Some never saw the danger coming; others saw the peril and rushed to save others -- up those stairwells, into the flames, into the cockpit.

    They were white and black and brown -- men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world. And they were snatched from us senselessly and much too soon -- but they lived well, and they live on in you.

    Nine years have now passed. In that time, you have shed more tears than we will ever know. And though it must seem some days as though the world has moved on to other things, I say to you today that your loved ones endure in the heart of our nation, now and forever.

    Our remembrance today also requires a certain reflection. As a nation, and as individuals, we must ask ourselves how best to honor them -- those who died, those who sacrificed. How do we preserve their legacy -- not just on this day, but every day?

    We need not look far for our answer. The perpetrators of this evil act didn't simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself -- all that we stand for and represent in the world. And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most -- to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are.

    They doubted our will, but as Americans we persevere. Today, in Afghanistan and beyond, we have gone on the offensive and struck major blows against al Qaeda and its allies. We will do what is necessary to protect our country, and we honor all those who serve to keep us safe.

    They may seek to strike fear in us, but they are no match for our resilience. We do not succumb to fear, nor will we squander the optimism that has always defined us as a people. On a day when others sought to destroy, we have chosen to build, with a National Day of Service and Remembrance that summons the inherent goodness of the American people.

    They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

    They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day -- it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses -- as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

    Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world. Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

    For our cause is just. Our spirit is strong. Our resolve is unwavering. Like generations before us, let us come together today and all days to affirm certain inalienable rights, to affirm life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    This is how we choose to honor the fallen -- your families, your friends, your fellow service members. This is how we will keep alive the legacy of these proud and patriotic Americans. This is how we will prevail in this great test of our time. This is how we will preserve and protect the country that we love and pass it -- safer and stronger -- to future generations.

    May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Donald Trump offers to buy NYC mosque site

    Donald Trump (AP file photo)
    Donald Trump has sent an offer to purchase the site of the proposed mosque near ground zero in New York for the price paid plus 25 percent, according to several news outlets.

    According to The Associated Press, the offer is falling flat. Wolodymyr Starosolsky, a lawyer for the investor in the real estate partnership that controls the site, said Trump's offer is "just a cheap attempt to get publicity and get in the limelight," according to the AP.

    Below is a transcription of the letter from Trump to Hisham Elzanaty, the self-described major principal among the eight investors who bought the site, a copy of which was posted today on Politico.com (PDF).

    Sept. 9, 2010

    Mr. Hisham Elzanaty
    New York Neuro and Rehabilitation Center
    930 East Tremont Ave.
    Bronx, New York 10460

    Dear Mr. Elzanaty,

    Please let this letter serve to represent my offer to purchase your site located at 45 Park Place, New York, NY 10007, for what you paid plus 25%. I am making this offer as a resident of New York and citizen of the United States, not because I think the location is a spectacular one (because it is not), but because it will end a very serious, inflammatory, and highly divisive situation that is destined, in my opinion, to only get worse.

    As part of the offer, it would be agreed that, if you or your representative were to build a mosque, it would be located at least five blocks further from the World Trade Center site. This offer is for all cash with an immediate closing and is subject only to the finalization and signing of mutually acceptable documents.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter. Hopefully, something good can happen!

    Donald J. Trump

    Report: County 'failed to require compliance'

    Federal officials cited Mecklenburg County's "lack of oversight" and failure "to require compliance" for how it handled a rental assistance program for the homeless.

    Documents released today by the county list numerous criticisms of how the county and the nonprofit Mecklenburg Open Door ran the program. HUD officials conducted an an on-site "management review" in August.

    The program was responsible for handling more than $1 million in 2008-9 and more than $700,00 last year, officials said.

    Click here to read the document.

    Click here to read a letter from a HUD inspector regarding an upcoming survey.

    Among the findings:

    Mecklenburg Open Door:

    "Lack of documentation in housing/client files

    Incomplete Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections

    Annual Re-certifications not processed timely: Income verification, HQS Inspections and Rent

    Calculations not processed by the anniversary date

    Entry Dates Not Clear

    Leases not in file

    Rent Calculations not in file

    Rent Comparables are missing or not “adequate” comps

    Requests for Reimbursement reflect inaccurate Project #’s and Check Registers show incorrect

    Reporting Periods – County has to correct

    County Issues:

    Internal controls

    Processing SPC draws timely/Corporate Finance process received to assure timeliness in future

    Large amount of funds to be recaptured has decreased due to draws that were not made

    Processing draws without adequate supporting documentation

    Not complying with Contract for Services

    Lack of oversight of contractor

    Giving in to demands of contractor and not holding them accountable

    - Doug Miller