Rutherford County, NC, Western North Carolina, News,arrests, RC Catalyst, Judicial District 29A Where Has The Money Gone? Local United Way Spent Millions On Jail Programs? – Foothills Catalyst

Where Has The Money Gone? Local United Way Spent Millions On Jail Programs?

As you all know we have been following the situation at the jail for several years now. It was always very frustrating to us that we could never get information during Chris Francis’ administration. Sheriff Ellenburg has been much more transparent but that being said he inherited many problems that had been years in the making.

One of those major issues has been mental health/drug issue with persons incarcerated at the jail. I have been questioning the services offered to inmates at the jail after a parent contacted me early last year about her begging for help for her son and him never getting any.

I began to look at the supposed services offered. The county and the Hospital foundation has been giving money to support these programs for years but I had great difficulty obtaining information about the success of these programs.

Suzanne Porter

After asking Ms. Porter repeatedly for at least a list of available programs with no response, we obtained legal counsel to help with the freedom of information requests to see how these grants and funds have been spent and their success rate. Not an unreasonable request from a nonprofit institution that is using our tax dollars.

To my great surprise these requests have been blocked by the nonprofit involved. This has gotten me very concerned as I remember when the United Way CEO misappropriated funds, committed fraud, and conspiracy back in 1995. I have had concerns here through the years as services they have been funded for did not appear to be available (at least not in Rutherford County)

We became even more concerned when representatives and legal counsel became involved with this request. It seems an underground discussion of our requests have set off quite a stir with the people funding these programs. Not only will they not be transparent but also they are actively attacking our efforts to discover the truth.

The reason this is important is that after all this questioning the County announces funding for Jail Services and United Way. The Commissioners allocated a total of $139,900. $43,000 of this is actually for services in the jail with $55,000 to be used for “treatment and placement reserves” $32,000 is awarded to a number of vague categories.

The issue and concern here is that $32,700 was given to the United Way of Rutherford County for “grant writing and management services.”  The timing of this is very interesting, as it has occurred after our multiple requests for program information.

Suzanne Porter is the Executive Director of the United Way of Rutherford County. She has worked for years in close proximity to former Sheriff Francis, the Commissioners and many different committees. She has obtained an impressive number of grants over the past few years and because of her close connections with officials has been entrusted with handling much of these funds.

Chris Francis, Josh Stein, Suzanne Porte

Why does this matter? Porter has obtained over $3 million dollars of grants that were to be spent on mental health, substance abuse and other re-entry services for individuals incarcerated at the jail.

This sounds wonderful but where are the results of this?  Why would they not shout to the rooftops about how well their program was working? Why can I not find any indication that these programs existed? Why did they have their lawyer contact us about asking?

Over the past few months several people besides our group have been asking questions.  At a recent Rutherford Collaborative meeting run by Partners Health Management (the same entity handling the $139,900 being awarded for the exact same jail services that were supposedly funded, but seemingly never created by previous grants), one of the local mental health representatives announced that they were planning to host an incarceration re-entry simulation event to highlight the need for mental health and substance abuse services in the jail.

In response Porter (who is coincidentally the Vice-Chair of this collaborative) attacked this idea by claiming that her organization (the United Way, was providing re-entry services, including mental health, substance abuse, housing, etc. The member then asked for a list of those services. Carol Bostian the Partners representative instructed this person to contact Porter after the meeting and that the requested information would be provided.

Porter subsequently refused to respond to five requests for the information from this person and finally had an attorney in Apex, NC respond refusing to issue any information including even the names of the services. This attorney also responded to Foothills Catalyst information request with a big NO.

I am a Duke University certified nonprofit manager and this was a first for me. A nonprofit that received in excess of a million dollars in grants funds refusing to show how it was spent. This is totally wrong on so many points. It is not a HIPAA violation to report on programs and success rates.

Because Partners is tasked with assisting and identifying these types of services, the provider contacted Partners requesting the same information.  Rather than provide any information or assistance, the Partners representative that oversees the collaborative engaged in a series of troubling actions to avoid answering any questions relating to these issues, which ultimately resulted in Partners cancelling future collaborative meetings so then no one could follow up on this issue.

During this process, several providers began researching whether any reentry services at the jail existed, as well as whether any grant funds had been awarded to create and administer them.  In doing so, they discovered that the United Way had repeatedly applied for (and been awarded) grants in which Porter routinely identified the exact same services that the grants would fund.  Nearly all of Porter’s grant applications represented that the funds would be used for jail services, as well as programs and services for mental health and substance abuse.  After speaking with multiple officials at the jail, however, they simply do not seem to exist.

In each of the grant applications, Porter identified officials and entities that she claimed would be participants in creating and administering these services. Among those were Partners, Sheriff Francis, and County Manager Garrison.

County Manager Steve Garrison

Porter is refusing to answer these questions, Francis is no longer in office, so that leaves the current Sheriff or his Jail representative to confirm or deny these programs exist and County Manager Garrison should do the same.

While most would agree that this funding is needed, the larger question remains – where have the millions of dollars in funding that has already been paid for these exact same purposes gone and why would the United Way continue to have any role in this?

People like to think that these sort of things do not go on in small town friendly America but as with all things follow the money. It is truly as the good book says “love of money is the root of all evil.”

We will continue to look into this issue. The issues at the jail are close to my heart and I have not forgotten those people there. Our community cares about others and wants to help them as this just makes us a stronger community but we do not want to throw money down a bottomless hole.

So far that is what this seems like. I sincerely hope there is no criminal activity going on here in the misappropriations of funds as has happened with the United Way in the past.

Hopefully they will clear all this up and release the data on their programs so we can all work together to figure out something that works for these unfortunate individuals. So far it does not seem to be helping much.