SHORTCHANGED

For years now, the Human Development Corp. has taken in millions of tax dollars to provide Head Start services for 2,500 of the city's low-income children. It has never come close. And the problems just begin there.

In addition to Troupe, Smith blames the friends of a former HDC employee who applied for the job of Head Start director after Lois Harris, who had run Head Start for years, left in 1997. The employee was Renee Joiner, and for reasons Smith says she cannot go into, Smith says she could not give her the job. Joiner did not respond to calls seeking comment for this story.

Smith wanted to hire another woman, but the Policy Council wanted Joiner. The impasse delayed the hiring of a director for months. The No. 3 candidate later got the job in mid-1998; he was fired in August.

Smith says she was told by other HDC employees that if Joiner didn't get the promotion, "I would resent it. I would have problems. I would not have a Head Start program.

"Sure enough," Smith adds, "there was open sabotage in the Head Start program. You know where someone has their followings. Because she did not get that position, there was open sabotage. The program was outright sabotaged."

Smith blames sabotage for a host of the findings by the HHS review team: the files in which no one had verified the incomes of Head Start families; the reason attendance and enrollment were so low; the agency's failure to pay its bills on time; its operating in a deficit.

"That was during the time we had all this sabotage going on," she says.

Referring to the income verification, Smith says: "That information was pulled out of the file. When your janitor tells you there is sabotage in your agency, there is sabotage. Documents were disappearing that were originally there."

On the bills that weren't paid for months, Smith says new employees were wrongly instructed by other longtime employees to simply stick unpaid invoices in their desks. "One new person -- brand-new -- was told to just put the invoice in her desk. It was a bill to pay towels or something. She said, "I was told to do nothing with it.'" Smith denies power was ever turned off at any of the 63 Head Start locations but acknowledges there were "threats" of a disconnect.

Asked about the agency's debt, Smith says the problem has been corrected and will be reflected in this fiscal year's audit, which is in progress. "Part of the deficit was brought on by changes in the finance department and people sabotaging the agency. They thought maybe they had expenditures of $100,000, but somebody out there was holding another $100,000."

Other issues cited by the federal review team, she says, were exaggerated. Smith says the trip to Cancun referred to in the Policy Council minutes was a single trip offered by whomever could bring in the most children for enrollment in Head Start and that it was to be paid for from a non-Head Start fund. She says the trip was never actually taken.

She defends other travel by HDC representatives, from staff to its board of directors. About 20 employees traveled to a conference in San Francisco in 1996, at least partly to accept an award for a program that places 10 youths in summer jobs. Smith says she wanted to make up for many years in which certain employees in the Community Service Block Grant program were not allowed to attend conferences. They stayed two to a hotel room to save money, Smith says, and were "better informed" about their jobs because they attended.

In 1997, Smith, her husband, the HDC board chairman and four staff members traveled to Honolulu for a conference. Smith has proof her husband paid for his own ticket and that hers cost just $50. She acknowledges the group used a limousine for a night on the town but says they chipped in and paid for it themselves.

Just last month, HDC's public-relations director traveled to San Diego for a conference, and four members of the Policy Council took a trip to Miami for a another. Various members of the Policy Council have traveled to Berkeley, Calif., Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., since May 1998, according to the minutes of its meetings.

Tax returns show HDC spent $834,000 on "travel" during the fiscal year that ended in November 1998, but Smith cannot provide a breakdown of how much was spent on conventions and how much was related to the agency's school buses and other travel expenses. She does say that in any given year, "If we spend $100,000 (on conventions), we're doing pretty good."

She says HDC has a proper system of checks and balances: "For a staff person to travel, they must be approved by the director of that various program; then the information is sent to me for review; then I authorize that. The board has to authorize my travel. The board's travel has to be authorized by me."

Smith refutes many of the other allegations contained in the federal review. She says that if any 2-year-olds were enrolled in Head Start, it was because they were only a month or so shy of turning 3. She says the Chevrolet Suburban was purchased with Head Start funds -- it was cheaper than a Dodge, she says -- and that it is used when a group of employees need to travel to Kansas City or on trips around town. "It will hold eight comfortably. It's used constantly."

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