Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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December 8, 2011

Report: Concerns at COCAA

State rep talks pulling funding to spark changes

Shawnee, OK — The Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency is not in crisis, according to Vaughn Clark of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, but it isn’t thriving either.

Clark is the director of community development for the Department of Commerce and delivered that assessment Tuesday as part of a report that outlined several areas of concern including high turnover, low employee morale and a work environment marked by “paranoia” and “fear.”

COCAA is one of approximately 1,100 community action agencies nationwide that provide services for low-income residents. The agency covers six counties, including Payne, and locally sponsors home weatherization programs, food pantry and clothing voucher programs, Stillwater’s Mission of Hope and the Stillwater Community Health Center.

The Board of Directors includes two representatives from each county. Payne County’s representatives are Aaron Cole and County Commissioner Gloria Hesser. Both Cole and Hesser said they were limited in what they could discuss because of legal issues, but the board will release a public statement with possible changes included within the next 30 days.

“We all want community action to be successful. The motto is to give a helping hand up and not just a hand out,” Hesser said. “We the board are very interested, (are) charged with being sure that all the money is being used correctly and (goes to) the clients.”

COCAA is funded with a mix of private donations and state and federal grants. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which is one of those funding agencies, brought in executive directors from four other community action agencies to assess COCAA’s management amid lawsuits filed by current and former employees.

The report shows that both the Department of Commerce and other funding sources had concerns about the agency’s management.

After interviewing a number of employees, the assessment team drafted a report that outlined its concerns and recommendations. The focus of the report was on a “lack of serious attention (given) to complaints (of employees)” and a “lack of follow-through (by management) to make needed, significant changes.”

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