Coalition faces uncertain future

Lack of funds may cause group to fold


After the first board meeting of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition since the arrest of its former executive director for allegedly embezzling more than $30,000, officials say the non-profit organization's future is still undecided.

The board voted Wednesday to table the decision on what the future, if any, is for the local organization that was allegedly bankrupted by former executive director Robin M. McKenzie. The board will meet Tuesday to again take up the issue of whether the non-profit can recover.

Coalition Executive Director Debi Garoutte urged the board to begin organizing a fund-raiser to save the coalition so it could continue to serve Northwest Colorado children and residents that have come to depend on the organization for dental services.

"We can't have just two people killing themselves to keep things going we have to divide up the work to recover or we'll dissolve," Garoutte told the board. "I have 300 children victims who are suffering because one person (allegedly) abused (her) position. I believe in this program, and I believe that if we go out and work positively, our communities will feed off that and support our program."

Garoutte said the minimum amount of money the coalition needs to get out of the red is $15,000. That debt includes $9,003 paid to Kids in Need of Dentistry that McKenzie allegedly attempted to pay with the funds from another non-profit group, Moffat County Partners. The coalition also owes $4,800 in federal taxes, $240 in state taxes and several outstanding bills to local companies.

"We need to act now," Garoutte said. "We are absolutely at the mercy of our community, but I believe we can raise the money or this will dissolve."

Whether or not the group will try to raise that money will be decided Tuesday. The board will also consider the Bank of Colorado's offer to have board members personally sign for the $9,003 that the bank is holding in the coalition's name.

The Craig Police Department arrested McKenzie, 36, on charges of theft on April 3. McKenzie is suspected of embezzling more than $30,000 from the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and Moffat County Partners.

The District Attorney has filed charges of felony theft and misdemeanor theft. The third-degree felony charge alleges McKenzie stole $15,000 or more from the coalition. The misdemeanor charge alleges she stole more than $100 but less than $500 from Partners.

McKenzie served as the coalition's executive director from 2000 until March of this year when she moved to join the staff of Partners.

The Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition board was completely deceived by McKenzie during her tenure, coalition co-president Cheryl Ivy said.

"We would verbally ask Robin for a report at all our meetings, and ask about grants and our finances, and she would tell us 'Everything's fine, there's plenty of money coming in," Ivy said. "She seemed very confident and made us think everything was going well. Now we've learned that just asking isn't enough."

The coalition did purchase accounting software approximately a year ago, but after McKenzie's duplicity was uncovered, it was discovered the software had never even been taken out of its package, Ivy said.

"We had thought that the program was being used all along," Ivy said. "Robin had to send quarterly reports the United Way in Routt and Moffat County to show how the money was being used, and obviously those weren't legitimate.

"As a board we put our full trust in one person and she failed us."

The coalition is looking to reorganize its board with new members, Ivy said.

At Wednesday's meeting, the dental coalition board made several other decisions, including McKenzie's termination from her position at the dental coalition, effective March 29 she had been helping part time to train Garoutte, at the time of her arrest.

The bylaws concerning how checks are handled were amended so that all checks must now be signed by the two officers at the office, and "signatures will only be written after the date paid, amount owed and payee correspond with the bill, statement or reimbursement form."

Ivy told the board that McKenzie regularly would track down authorized co-signers at their work or home for them to sign black checks or checks that would be immediately altered by McKenzie.

"We've talked to Corrie (Scott) about how the United Way does their monthly financial reports, what checks and balances they have, how they double check everything," Ivy said. "We've learned that (those steps) are necessary now, and we're putting those into (the coalition).

If the coalition can successfully reorganize, there is local funding available. Both the Moffat County and Routt County United Way has allocated funds totaling $24,000 to the non-profit, but the money is being withheld.

The need for the services the coalition organized is significant, and that existing need is the key issue of the present problem, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

If the coalition can successfully reorganize, there is local funding available, Garoutte said. Both the Moffat County and Routt County United Way has allocated funds totaling $24,000 to the non-profit but the money is being withheld.

Garoutte said she is confident that if the coalition is saved, it can do much more work than what was done previously including organizing a permanent, year-round dental clinic in Moffat County.

"There are hundreds of grants out there that would apply to (providing dental care)," she said. "While she was here, Robin did no legwork on grants to further the goals of the coalition, and there is a lot of money out there for us if we can survive. On top of everything else, she didn't do her job. When I look at what' available I get so excited because I know what I could do, but we have get back on our feet first."

Grants focused on health services, human services, education, youth and medical services some as high as $1.8 million are available and the coalition's goals dovetail perfectly with the grants requirements, Garoutte said.

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