Homeless kids in the crossfire

The Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth operates the William Fry Drop-In Center on Shirley Street. The two-year-old center, which relies heavily on county funding, offers access to case management, counseling, training, a bathroom and shower and a washer and dryer to hundreds of Southern Nevada youths, age 18 or younger, who live on the streets.

But the charity has been caught up in a dispute centered around its former executive director, Kathleen Vermillion, who was named in a Jan. 11 complaint filed with the attorney general's office by the charity's current executive director, Arash Ghafoori, accusing her of malfeasance.

Ms. Vermillion resigned from the Henderson City Council before the allegations of financial impropriety surfaced, then quit the partnership after they were made public.

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

In the wake of all this, Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly want to take $100,000 of county grant funding given to the nonprofit and combine it with a $50,000 federal justice assistance grant to sponsor summer swimming programs for low-income families at five county pools throughout the valley.

The money also would be used to train teens as certified lifeguards and to fund part-time jobs at the Parkdale, Sunrise, Whitney, Walnut and Cambridge pools.

Both commissioners acknowledged the interesting timing but denied the proposal was retaliation for Ms. Vermillion's lawsuit against the county.

"We would suffer tremendously with any loss or reduction of this money," argues new partnership Executive Director Ghafoori. "We count on that money, budget for it and spend accordingly on services. ... I feel the charity is definitely a potential victim because of old management."

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

The audit found the charity neglects to change its safe combination once employees leave or change roles, that checks and cash are kept in the executive director's desk until they're deposited, that grants were not being tracked properly and canceled checks were missing from reimbursement packets submitted to social services.

The county has every right to insist Mr. Ghafoori and his staff institute some better financial controls and safeguards -- indeed, they should.

Nor should any endeavor -- even a charity that does good works -- be led to believe it has a permanent claim on taxpayer dollars.

A longer-term review of county funding for outside agencies may be worthwhile. But in the short run, the kids who benefit from the work of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth should not be penalized for the actions of others.