‘Help’ agency leaders: Taking ‘high road’

Published 12:07 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

By Chris Moore




The Rev. Randy Vaughn, board chairman for “Help! I’m Hurting!” and pastor at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, said his group withdrew from consideration for becoming Jefferson County’s long-term recovery group because of the negative attention focused on the group.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick announced Monday that “Help! I’m Hurting!” withdrew from consideration for becoming the county’s long-term recovery group.

The withdrawal came amid criticism from Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Sinegal, who said that he did not believe the group was being transparent, according to former board members with whom he spoke.

“Jefferson County had to choose an LTRG. Word has hit the street that we are not transparent,” Vaughn said. “The only area of transparency that you are talking about is that a board member couldn’t walk out with a budget sheet.

“I believe we can provide minutes of every meeting that we’ve had. The minutes were transcribed, sometimes delayed, but we got them. It never seemed to cause any problems among the board. The problems that evidently generated were those that generated after people resigned. There was no discussion. I woke up one morning to three resignation letters without discussion. As painful as that is, my feeling is that there could’ve at least been discussions.”

Executive Director of HIH Cheryl Brewer said that the organization withdrew its name because of the chaos and confusion.

“We don’t want any of that,” she said. “We decided to take the high road. We can still be as effective as we have been and continue to do what we’ve been doing with serving. We don’t want to have to fight and be in the chaos and all of that so we bow out gracefully and continue to work to serve the whole county.”

Vaughn said that the practice of not giving copies of finance sheets to board members to take home was a point of contention but that other boards use that method.

Vaughn said that the board started off meeting every other week, but that the meetings became more sporadic due to scheduling conflicts with board members.

“We met every other week and then once a month,” he said. “Other times we were struggling to get a quorum. There were board members that felt we needed to have these kinds of records. We recommended that we have a board retreat so that we can go through and iron out and reorient and so forth. That would’ve been for this month. That was a discussion we had in April,” he said.

Vaughn said the decision to not send copies of finance records to the board members was something he would do differently now.

“With legal counsel, we now know to saturate the board with whatever,” he said. “Out of that, and I’m not bashing anybody, three board members decided to tender their resignation for various reasons. One of the phrases that came out of that was ‘not being transparent.’ My comment to that, not in defense, is someone saying we’re not being transparent while being a part of the board with knowledge has rights to ask questions — that’s a board privilege — is wrong. When that word goes to the street, it takes on all kinds of colors. People think that you’re not this and you’re not that. Now the street has it and now it’s in the ears of people.”

Vaughn said that people who come in might not get assistance right away because of the steps and measures required for “Help! I’m Hurting!” aid.

“The people who are hurting, are in need, are facing the denials from FEMA and so forth, are not people of great patience, and that is understood. Long-term recovery deals with process. People can come in and say ‘I need sheetrock,’ for an example. Being a long-term recovery group, just as there is an intake of material and supplies, we have a responsibility of inventory. It moves in on inventory and moves out by invoice. For one to receive it, you have to come through the process. We can give you sheetrock, but if you are putting sheetrock over termite-infested and molded walls, we have not benefitted you and you’re going to be sick. That’s our responsibility.”

Vaughn said that when individuals walk in to seek assistance they become clients and therefore are protected by certain laws.

“Our staff can be held liable for the mishandling of that information,” he said. “I, as president, don’t even have access to these files. (Cheryl) Brewer, as executive director, has been declared by FEMA as that fiduciary person to handle to receive the classified information. We’re not just here as the nice people doing the nice things. We have to operate by laws. When the accounting is done, we’ve got to show records. We are now in the computer system that is hooked up with the other agencies for being long-term recovery. We’ve been operating and cleaned up 200 or 300 houses. We’re rebuilt over 40 houses. We have worked to secure funding with partners.”

Vaughn said he doesn’t want to criticize anyone.

“I’m well aware of the comments that have been in print as well as the news by my commissioner. I am a bit disappointed, and I have had numerous conversations with him. I think him to be a great fellow that I’ve supported over these years, and I hope to continue to support him. The reason for our withdrawing is we are here with all of this attention that is not positive for us to do the work that we are doing. This is dividing an already fractured community. They’re already hurt. The rain (Tuesday) brought panic. We did not want to be a part of that kind of dividing. Not that we have done anything wrong.

“We have done what we set out to do. We’re doing what we set out to do. We have a proper accounting system. We have a proper CPA and an auditor. We have, now, legal advice. We have, now, sought professional board organizational consultants to come in and work with us as a board. “