Funds for coalition, Partners put on hold

Local non-profits involved in embezzlement investigation to meet with United Way allocation committee

The Moffat County United Way office voted Thursday to hold back this year's financial allocations for the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and Moffat County Partners.

Both non-profit organizations are involved in an embezzlement investigation surrounding the alleged actions of Robin McKenzie, 36, during her term as executive director of the coalition and as an employee of Partners.

McKenzie was arrested Tuesday on felony and misdemeanor charges of theft. She is suspected of embezzling in excess of $30,000 from the coalition and more than $300 from Partners.

Twelve of the 13 Moffat County United Way board members voted to withhold this year's allocations to the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and Moffat County Partners until the organizations' boards can meet with

the United Way's allocation committee.

Alice Rigney cast the lone dissenting vote.

"The boards (of the coalition and Partners) need to give the allocation committee an idea of the controls that are going to be improved or put in place," Moffat County United Way Board President John Ponikvar said.

"The allocation committee can then make a recommendation to the board. They need to come to us and tell us what they're going to do, and we'll go from there."

McKenzie was executive director of the coalition when the organization became an independent entity in June 2000 until last month when she moved to Partners to become a three-quarter-time employee in mid-February. McKenzie had also served on the Partners Board of Directors from December of 2000 until joining the non-profit organization as an employee.

The board members discussed various improvements or changes that organizations funded by the Moffat County United Way could implement to prevent such alleged embezzlement from happening again.

After some debate, the board decided to focus on inexpensive accounting computer programs, offering basic training concerning board organization and finances, and assurances that the person writing the checks for an organization is not responsible for balancing the organization's accounts.

"There are some small things that every organization can do that will cost nothing that will safeguard its finances," United Way board member Scott Cook said. "The cancelled checks should be sent to someone other than the executive director or whoever's writing the checks. If someone is paying their personal bills with an organization's funds, that will show up. If someone is altering checks, that will show up."

The applications for funding from the United Way will be sent out in November, and will include any new requirements concerning financial organization that are added during the coming year.

"What I'm hearing is that we all support the (coalition), but we do need to give some direction about how organizations should do their accounting," Moffat County United Way Executive Director Corrie Scott said. "We do have some responsibility to say 'here are some things you need to work, here are some things that need to be put in place.'"

In a letter released by the United Way Office today, the United Way board listed the requirements the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition must meet to receive its $15,000 allocation. These requirements include:

a complete audit of its accounting records for Fiscal Year 2000 and 2001

policy and procedures that are in place for both the board of directors and the executive director

a plan of action for financial responsibility and basic accounting procedures

a plan of action to move forward, addressing goals and objectives

a plan to address the shortfall of funds

board training provided by United Way

a meeting between the United Way allocations and executive boards and the board of directors of the dental coalition

Scott said the United Way would allocate funds to continue the coalition's programs but could not "bail out" the debt in which McKenzie allegedly left the organization.

According to a statement from the coalition's current executive director, Debi Garoutte, the organization is already working on raising money.

"We are currently doing everything in our power to seek the necessary funding that we need to successfully operate," Garoutte said Thursday. "Several changes have already been made and several more are pending to make it impossible for anything like this to ever happen to us again.

"The future of the dental coalition is not an issue that should be taken lightly. The public needs to be aware of the serious neglect we have in our community on good dental hygiene."

Garoutte said she is researching possible emergency funds or grants that would help the non-profit organization recover from the alleged embezzlement.

Garoutte became executive director of the coalition on March 27.

The United Way allocations will be dispersed to all funded organizations April 15. The coalition had been slated to receive $15,000 and Partners was going to receive $7,000.

Ponikvar said the two boards should appear before the allocation committee in the next two weeks and the money shouldn't be delayed more than a month.

"The dental coalition is right at the top of our important programs," he said. "But we need to show responsibility to our donors we need to ask what will be in place to handle the finances. Or it's up to (the coalition board) to decide if (the coalition) is still a viable program.

"If the dental coalition can't recover from this, the real victims of what happened will be the several hundred kids in (Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties) that won't get the dental care they need that they can't get anywhere else."

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