11/05/06 — Lighthouse board still working on new direction

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Lighthouse board still working on new direction

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 5, 2006 10:32 AM

The administrative offices of The Lighthouse of Wayne County Inc. have re-opened and the safehouse has never closed, but the completion of the organization's restructuring plan is taking slightly longer than some members of the board of directors anticipated.

The board had hoped to have a new plan prepared for presentation by Friday.

"We are continuing to work very closely with the United Way and others. We are in contact with them," said board member Cindy Sanford, adding that the board is "meeting constantly" to resolve the issue.

She would not, however, discuss the specifics of the reorganization plan.

And because the plan was not in place by Nov. 1, the United Way has suspended its November funding for The Lighthouse.

"As we indicated, we're waiting on them to send us a plan," United Way executive director Steve Parr said last week. "Until we receive that plan, all future funds have been suspended."

The United Way provides $65,809 to The Lighthouse -- 14 percent of the funding.

Other funding agencies, including the N.C. Council for Women and Domestic Vio-lence Commission, the N.C. Governor's Crime Commis-sion, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Economic Oppor-tunity, FEMA and Wayne County, also are waiting on the plan.

Wayne County, even though it has not yet given The Lighthouse its $30,000 appropriation for fiscal year 2006-07, is working with the board as it prepares to search for a new executive director.

Former executive director Cheryl Seronick resigned on Oct. 19. Mary Bolin is serving as assistant director.

The group's difficulties, Mrs. Sanford said previously, appear to have begun earlier this year when it was discovered that portions of The Lighthouse's payroll taxes were not paid in recent years.

Since that discovery, the nine-member board of directors -- five of whom have joined since January -- has faced questions from the organization's funders. They are now trying to answer those questions as they restructure the organization.

Mrs. Sanford did stress, though, that Mrs. Seronick's resignation does not appear to be linked to The Lighthouse's financial problems.

She also said that all the back taxes have been paid and that the group is in the process of working with the IRS to create a payment schedule for the rest of the penalties and interest fees.

The board, however, would not release any financial information -- its total budget, the amount paid in back taxes, the amount left to pay or which payroll taxes were not paid.

"You call it public records, and we don't. Right now, I can't give you any of that information," Lighthouse board chairman Wayne Gow said.

Because The Lighthouse is a non-profit agency such information is public record, but the board is declining further comment until its plan is in place.

"They've got a tough road to go," Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said.

But, he continued, the county is working to help The Lighthouse any way it can.

"The Lighthouse program is vitally important to the county, and we want to see it survive," he said.

With his help, the board recently asked former Goldsboro City Manager Richard Slozak to lend his assistance. He agreed, but, he stressed, he is not stepping in as an interim director or as any sort of paid employee. He also said he is not working on the group's restructuring plan.

"I agreed to do some volunteer work there. I am not guiding them in anything," he said. "I have not begun to do anything yet. I'm going to look at certain problems and my main focus right now is to ensure the safehouse remains operational.

"Just because I'm retired does not mean I'm not involved. This is just one of seven non-profits that I'm volunteering for. I think the mission of The Lighthouse is important within the community. I think the community needs a shelter for women who have experienced abuse."