Do the au­dit

De­tailed fi­nan­cial ex­am­i­na­tion could start to re­pair the dam­age at CAO

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

Things sure are con­fus­ing at Buf­falo’s Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. There is a way to be­gin straight­en­ing it out: Do the in­de­pen­dent foren­sic au­dit.

That’s the au­dit that CAO’s leader, L. Nathan Hare, said was never be­gun or that if it was be­gun, then it wasn’t le­gal. In at least one in­stance Hare was declar­a­tive: “No out­side au­dit was started,” he stated in a let­ter to his staff in re­sponse to sto­ries in The Buf­falo News. Oops. A con­tract and emails ob­tained by The News show that Chi­ampou Travis Be­saw and Ker­sh­ner – or CTBK – be­gan an “en­gage­ment” in early De­cem­ber. A week later, it re­quested records. Its work was halted in early Jan­uary af­ter a purge at CAO, whose board pres­i­dent, trea­surer and four other di­rec­tors were mys­te­ri­ously and sum­mar­ily dis­missed. At least four of those di­rec­tors had pre­vi­ously at­tempted to fire Hare for fail­ure to pro­vide the de­tailed fi­nan­cial data they sought.

So, what does Hare say now about the au­dit whose ex­is­tence he de­nied? Now he knows it ex­isted, he says, but that it was il­le­gal. He also says that such an au­dit was un­nec­es­sary, since the agency’s ac­count­ing firm al­ready does that work, and also claims that its cost could have topped $100,000 even though the com­pany put in writ­ing that it would have run no more than $10,000.

The foren­sic au­dit was to have looked into how CAO was spend­ing money for Head Start pro­grams, which the or­ga­ni­za­tion man­ages here. Jen­nifer Shank, the dis­missed trea­surer, said the board’s con­cerns in­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity that grant money meant for Head Start and Early Head Start was be­ing used for other CAO needs. Hare, in an email to The News this week, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is “con­fi­dent” that grant funds are be­ing spent ap­pro­pri­ately.

Over­lay­ing all of this is the chaotic way the con­flict played out in pub­lic. The board fired Hare, but he never went away. In­stead, CAO at­tor­ney Adam W. Perry nul­li­fied the ac­tion, claim­ing it was taken with­out giv­ing ap­pro­pri­ate no­tice. Hare re­turned to work and the of­fend­ing board mem­bers were dis­missed.

Now, the FBI and the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice are ask­ing ques­tions.

There is a way to be­gin un­tan­gling this mess. Do the au­dit. Given Hare’s be­lief that all is in order with CAO spend­ing on Head Start, he should have no qualms in re­hir­ing CTBK to con­duct that deep dive.

Plainly, it will take more than an au­dit to an­swer the ques­tions that have arisen at CAO, but given that such a re­view kicked off the avalanche of trou­ble there, con­duct­ing it in pub­lic would count as a good-faith start at demon­strat­ing that noth­ing is amiss.

Re­fus­ing that ex­am­i­na­tion might not qual­ify as proof of a prob­lem, but it would also do noth­ing to dis­pel that clouds that thicken each time Hare tries to ex­plain away what is go­ing on in his or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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