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African American Leadership Council loses most of funding

Founded in 1990, the African American Leadership Council provides social and youth programs in the North Greenwood community from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at 1201 Douglas Ave.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Founded in 1990, the African American Leadership Council provides social and youth programs in the North Greenwood community from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at 1201 Douglas Ave.

CLEARWATER — Concerned about the financial management of one of North Greenwood's most popular social and youth programs, the government agency providing most of the money has pulled its funding.

Pinellas Core Management Services, an arm of the county's Juvenile Welfare Board that oversees smaller agencies receiving funding, made the decision after a recent review of the records of the African American Leadership Council.

In a letter Friday to AALC executive director Bilal Habeeb-ullah, Paul Lackey of PCMS wrote: "Based on the recent review of AALC financial records for calendar year 2007 by an independent auditor, PCMS is acting to protect its interests regarding financial accountability to program funders."

The AALC's funding will end Sept. 21.

"We want to find a way to keep the programming in the community," Lackey said.

Habeeb-ullah referred questions to Cory Person, the Tampa attorney representing the AALC. Person said the organization is fully cooperating and is confident that no intentional wrongdoing will be found.

Founded in 1990, the AALC has been an integral part of the North Greenwood community. Located at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Douglas Avenue, it's a place where neighborhood children spend time after school in computer labs and in the gym.

During 2007, $494,536 of AALC's $875,575 in revenue came from the welfare board. Clearwater chipped in $100,000 and allows AALC to manage the programming at the Douglas Avenue location. The Eckerd Foundation added $80,000.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said the city would review the welfare board's findings to get a clearer picture and to examine the financial management of AALC and its programs.

"They have offered valuable programs to the North Greenwood community," Horne said. "We would love to see the programs continue if possible but they may have to be provided by a different provider."

Friday's letter from PCMS noted four areas of concern:

• Excluding payroll, approximately $150,000, or 64 percent of the expenses reviewed, had no documentation for payments.

• Several payments were made directly or nondirectly to AALC board members or related organizations, some without documentation.

• A check in the amount of $45,188.75 paid to AALC in December 2007 for technology lab services to PCMS was reported by AALC as lost. However, the check was cashed and cannot be tracked to any known AALC bank account.

• The annual audit for 2007 conducted for AALC by Lovett & Co. C.P.A. did not report: an existing line of credit, a second bank account opened during the year, and the lack of documentation for a significant number of financial transactions.

Muhammad Abdur-Rahim, an AALC board member, said Monday that he hasn't and doesn't know of any board member receiving payments.

"It seems to me this is a witch hunt," Abdur-Rahim said. "We've had several audits from JWB and these questions were never raised."

AALC received a clean audit from Lovett & Co. in March.

"How can you conduct an audit when you never contacted the auditor?" asked Foster Lovett of Lovett & Co. of the most recent findings by the welfare board. "We have everything they wanted and if they just would have asked us. No one ever asked us for a copy of anything. And all they had to do was ask."

Lackey said it was AALC's responsibility to contact Lovett. He said the organization was given several opportunities to show documents.

The JWB board requested a forensic audit of the AALC after Ann McDowell and Jim Jackson, two area residents, requested that the organization be looked into during the July board meeting.

The questions started with a July altercation between employees at the center. Loretta Mitchell said she was assaulted because she informed a college that a student wasn't performing work-study hours at the center despite an AALC employee's signature on time sheets to the contrary.

Lackey said the investigation didn't find anything pertaining to time sheets.

Person said the student worked the hours that were signed for and that Mitchell's accusation was untrue.

He also said Mitchell was not assaulted. "We stand by that no assault occurred at AALC," Person said.

"It's a safe place that's been providing services for children in the community for years, and when the full complexion of the investigation is completed, we are confident that it will show that AALC did nothing wrong and it can continue to be a tool for social change in the community."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

African American Leadership Council loses most of funding 08/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 4:17pm]
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