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Posted at 02:41 PM ET, 04/23/2012

Youth nonprofit executives endure tough questioning


Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is pressing for answers on CEO’s recent ouster. (Sarah L. Voisin - WASHINGTON POST)
Executives from the embattled Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. appeared before a D.C. Council committee today for a budget oversight hearing — the group’s first appearance under the klieg lights since it ousted CEO Ellen London earlier this month.

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Human Services panel, had questions about London’s ouster — part of a shakeup following revelations about the Trust’s role in the embezzlement scheme masterminded by former council member Harry Thomas Jr.

But there were few answers to his questions. For one, none of the Trust’s board members attended the hearing. For another, none of the executives who attended — including interim CEO Mary A. Terrell — could speak to the reasons behind the ouster. Terrell said only that she was asked to take over as CEO only days before London was unexpectedly fired — a move that unfolded with “some element of serious awkwardness,” Graham said.

Graham was also interested in hearing from executives on how exactly they are safeguarding the Trust’s money — most of which comes from the D.C. government. But there, too, he was left less than satisfied.

An audit of the fiscal 2010 books is still underway, the group’s controller testified, and Graham wanted more information about the Trust’s grant management than what was readily on hand. The controller, Michael Ahearn, at one point described finding $1.1 million in unspent funds in the group’s accounts.

Ahearn said it was “not that easy” to determine the origins of those funds or to trace various other transactions. “There’s a lot of money going in and out all the time,” he said.

That, needless to say, is not a satisfactory posture for a group that is nominally independent but is reliant on the city government for the vast majority of its funding.

What’s clear is that after the Thomas theft, Graham and other politicos are looking to keep a tighter rein on the Trust, even as people inside and outside the group lament political meddling that culminated in the Thomas scandal. That could mean changing the current governance model, where accountability is vested in the quasi-public nonprofit’s board — a politically appointed board that, in recent years, has met irregularly and infrequently.

Pressure to shake things up is likely only to build in the next couple of weeks. Graham said on WAMU-FM Friday that he expects to release findings of his own investigation into the Trust’s grant oversight by the end of this week. Thomas is set to be sentenced next week, on May 3.

By  |  02:41 PM ET, 04/23/2012

 
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