County delays vote on grant to embattled charity


In a move that surprised even charity officials, the County Commission decided Tuesday to hold off voting on a proposal to take back $100,000 in grant money from the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth amid concerns its former director misused nonprofit funds.

The two-week delay was given to allow the charity to clear up some discrepancies in the budget it provided commissioners, which included rent for a drop-in center the charity already owns. Charity officials said commissioners might have misread their budget because the rent allotment is for storage units used to store larger donations, such as clothing and hygiene items.

The proposal came weeks after the charity's founder, Kathleen Vermillion, left amid concerns she misused the charity's money. She was named in a Jan. 11 complaint filed with the attorney general's office accusing her of malfeasance.

Vermillion is suing the county and ex-boyfriend Commissioner Steve Sisolak, alleging he and others had leaked her drug test results, which were positive for methadone. The drug test was ordered by the charity's board of directors. Sisolak, one of the charity's largest donors, is accusing Vermillion and her former legal team of trying to extort $3.9 million from him.

Regardless of the political and legal battles swirling around the embattled nonprofit, charity officials said they're optimistic the delay means commissioners are reconsidering taking part of the county grant funds to sponsor swimming programs for low-income families at five county pools throughout the valley and create part-time lifeguard jobs for teens.

"We were caught off-guard (with the delay)," said John Simmons, charity board member. "What I would hope, perhaps, is they want to take some more time to review the action they want to take. My hope is that it's pulled completely and removed."

Arash Ghafoori, the organization's executive director, said that while the idea to help low-income families is a good one, there are other nonprofits and governmental agencies more suited to help foster a swimming program, such as the county's parks and recreation department.

"I don't believe any of those pools are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, because guess who is? We are, through one program or another," Ghafoori said. "It's a very important distinction to make, and it's about prioritizing the community's needs. It's time to look past management issues and all this media chaos and really focus on what we do."

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who sponsored the proposal, wrote a letter to the Review-Journal in which she asked the head of the charity's board to review the grant request because the "budget submitted was identical to the budget they presented the year before -- no new goals, no documentation of whether the goals had been met, same number of youth."

Giunchigliani said she is not proposing to terminate the agreement with the nonprofit or distance the county from the charity as it undergoes leadership changes.

A county audit performed last month found that funding provided by the county to the nonprofit was "not subject to financial mismanagement" under Vermillion's leadership, according to Sabra Smith Newby, county director of administrative services.

Smith Newby also said that the audit focused only on reviewing county funds, not funds provided by other community partners or private donors.

The charity has hired its own forensic auditor -- the audit might take up to six weeks -- and the nonprofit is conducting its own internal audit, Ghafoori said. The results of those audits will be made public.

Charity officials also are discussing ways in which they can separate themselves from or dissolve the Homeless Youth Foundation, which was founded in 2008 by Vermillion to ensure the future financial security of the partnership while managing its assets and distributing funds to other nonprofits with similar goals.

"We don't have any plans for the Homeless Youth Foundation whatsoever," Ghafoori said. "We're recommending the dissolution of it. We can do everything in-house in terms of endowment to administering scholarships."

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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