Community Action Nonprofit Exec and Board Exchange Allegations

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January 11, 2012; Source: Ventura County Star | A search of the archives of the Ventura County Star newspaper doesn’t reveal any out-of-the-ordinary problems at the agency within the past couple of years. Instead, the conflict seems like a bolt out of the blue, or perhaps a problem that has been festering for a while until it simply exploded into less than positive press coverage.

Hanson has been the executive director of this longtime community action agency, which has provided housing for the homeless, since 2006. She apparently filed a complaint with the California attorney general’s office in November, charging that three board members had conflicts of interest and took actions that compelled CAVC to pass on a $1 million forgivable loan (which would have been used to convert a home into a facility for emancipated foster youths). Hanson contends that three board members worked for organizations that were seeking the same funding. She also alleges that board members failed to reveal important financing information—including, in one case, a CAVC board member’s connection to a competing organization.

The CAVC board met on January 9 and voted unanimously to place the executive director on six weeks of administrative leave due to undisclosed, unspecific personnel matters that the board chair said were “concerns dating back to the past about her performance.” The chair also categorically denied Hanson’s conflict of interest charges.

Obviously, the situation looks awful. On the one hand, Hanson is making charges about people employed by competing organizations, one of them a group with a generally stellar affordable housing and community development track record (the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation). However, when organizations have overlapping missions and skills, the complementarities can sometimes turn into conflicts, especially in times of funding cutbacks.

On the other hand, the timing of the board decision makes it look like a tit-for-tat action, particularly as it comes without specifics on Hanson’s alleged performance issues. Even if the conflict of interest charges are spurious—and well they might be—the board’s subsequent action against Hanson makes it look like they are taking punitive action against a whistleblower.

Whatever the facts, this surprise Ventura County Star article suggests that some significant problems at CAVC might have been handled better on all sides prior to this point.—Rick Cohen