A nonprofit organization for homeless youth whose director left amid concerns she misused the charity’s money could lose $100,000 in funding if two Clark County commissioners have their way.
The proposal comes weeks after Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth founder Kathleen Vermillion was named in a Jan. 11 complaint filed with the attorney general’s office accusing her of malfeasance.
Vermillion is suing the county and her ex-boyfriend, 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. Sisolak is accusing Vermillion and her legal team of trying to extort $3.9 million from him.
Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly want to take $100,000 of the county grant funding given to the nonprofit as part of a larger grant 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 to become certified lifeguards and create part-time jobs at Parkdale, Sunrise, Whitney, Walnut and Cambridge pools.
Both commissioners acknowledged the timing but denied the proposal was in retaliation for Vermillion’s lawsuit against the county.
But Arash Ghafoori, the charity’s new executive director, said any loss of money would devastate his organization and the services provided by the William Fry Drop-In Center. The center, which relies heavily on county funding, opened two years ago and each year offers access to case management, counseling, training, a bathroom and shower and a washer and dryer to hundreds of kids ages 18 or younger who live on the streets.
“We would suffer tremendously with any loss or reduction of this money,” said Executive Director Arash 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 shows that funding provided by Clark County to the nonprofit was “not subject to financial mismanagement” under Vermillion’s leadership, according to Sabra Smith Newby, county director of administrative services.
“It is important to note that the review focused on funds provided by Clark County, not funds provided by other community partners or private donors,” Smith Newby wrote in a Jan. 23 memo to county management.
The audit points out the charity does not 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, grants were not being tracked properly and canceled checks were missing from reimbursement packets submitted to social services.
Giunchigliani added she is not proposing to terminate the agreement with the nonprofit or distance the county from the charity as it undergoes leadership changes.
“Kathleen is a friend of mine,” Giunchigliani said. “We’re not caught up in that dog fight. That’s between other folks. We have an opportunity to help thousands of kids and their families. I can take $100,000 and fund a full program, keep them from being homeless and not lose a $50,000 JAG (Justice Assistance) grant.”
Weekly said if his colleagues can compel him to leave the money alone, he doesn’t have a problem voting that way. Grant money is hard to come by, and he “would hate to see these dollars get caught up in a bunch of bureaucracy.”
“It’s no one’s intention to hurt anybody, especially kids,” Weekly said. “There are so many needs out there. People need help. This too shall pass. I believe at the end of the day this agency will prevail.”
Sisolak, who established a scholarship fund and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the charity, said he will recuse himself from the vote as he has done with every homeless partnership youth item that has come before the board because of the personal investments he has made into the nonprofit.
“I will continue to donate my own resources to the partnership,” Sisolak said, choking back tears. “Those are great kids who are a group of underserved youth that the charity performs a great function for. I will continue to personally support the charity and its mission and every young man and woman that’s a client of theirs. I hope these kids understand that I’m not abandoning them.”