Meridian Star

August 31, 2013

State audit of Wesley House questions spending

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —

An audit of the Wesley House Community Center in Meridian by the Secretary of State listed in a preliminary report missing memos on checks or in ledgers omitting the purpose of a transaction; inaccurate or misleading information in documents provided to the Secretary of State's Office during the audit; questionable business decisions that may indicate a lack of fiduciary responsibility; certain expenses not related to charitable purposes; and other financial transactions not related to the charitable purpose. 

Kris Gianakas, chairman of the finance committee for Wesley House, said on the surface the findings in the report look much worse than they actually are and involve issues that have either already been dealt with or that are easily explained.

"The fact is probably 99 percent of non-profits are not compliant on everything required by state statute because the operators of those organizations are not well versed in all the laws," Gianakas said. "We haven't broken any laws at Wesley House."

There were five findings in the summary report compiled by Kim Anderson, senior examiner for the Charities Division of the Secretary of State's Office sent to Wesley House Executive Director Ginger Grissom Stevens and the agency's board of directors.

Stevens could not be reached for comment Friday but Gianakas addressed each of the findings in the audit.

Gianakas said missing information on checks detailing the purpose of the transactions was a clerical error that has been rectified. He said almost all non-profits, in trying to keep up with donations and services, have workers who are not well versed in keeping track of what comes in and what goes out of a charitable organization.

The second finding, concerning misleading information to the Secretary of State's Office, concerned a misunderstanding by Stevens on what was considered fundraising and what wasn't, Gianakas said.

"She thought the board was in charge of fundraising but I had to explain to her whenever she writes for a grant that is fundraising as well," Gianakas. "Whenever you think of a fundraising event, grant writing doesn't exactly jump out at you so we had to make sure that is the case from now on."

Gianakas said the third finding was pretty easy to fix. It concerned an IRS 1099 form that he said most non-profits aren't even aware they are supposed to send in. 

In her report Anderson states, "It is the understanding of the examiner that a 'home office' was created and furnished with charitable funds, and possibly charity employee labor. However, it appeared upon the examiner's visit that there was more than adequate facilities on site for the executive director to occupy." 

Gianakas said Stevens' position as executive director for the Wesley House is unique in that it encompasses time away from the central office in Meridian.

"She is on call 24/7 and the 'office' consists of a desk Ginger uses at her home to keep all her contact information so she doesn't have to leave at all hours of the night to come to the office," Gianakas said. "It isn't as if she has an executive office in her home. It is just enough she can get her job done there and then later follow up when she gets to the office at the Wesley House." 

The last issue may seem the most damaging, but there were extenuating circumstances, Gianakas said. 

The report states that in 2010 and into 2011 Stevens spent $55, 924 of the charity's funds for personal reasons. The report further states the money was repaid in full. 

"Credit cards are to be used for business use only," Anderson wrote in the report, "with someone other than the credit card user rectifying the account."

Anderson further advised board monitoring of this issue in the future.

"Again, this is something that was addressed quite some time ago and there are policies already in place to make sure this doesn't happen again," Gianakas said. "We don't have anything to hide."

Attempts to talk with Anderson Friday were unsuccessful but Gianakas said none of the findings or the overall audit itself will result in any sort of disciplinary action by the Secretary of State's Office. 

Anderson has requested a detailed explanation from Wesley House of each of the findings no later than Sept. 12.

Gianakas said his response will be submitted next week, well ahead of the allotted time set down by Anderson and the Charities Division.

"Then I'm going to send them another report two weeks later and another two weeks after that," Gianakas said. "This is all going to be right by them and frankly, we've learned a great deal that will only make us a better organization."