The United Way has halted funding to an embattled Orange County Latino anti-poverty agency after a lengthy investigation and six-month-long probation period over its alleged failure to serve nonprofit Latino organizations, officials said Monday.
Funds to Concilio of Orange County, an umbrella organization that provides technical support to nonprofit agencies, were frozen in June when United Way officials determined that it had continued to assist for-profit businesses in violation of its charter agreement, said United Way spokeswoman Judy Trest.
Merritt Johnson, president of the United Way of Orange County, North/South, said board members will decide at their Thursday meeting whether Concilio, which is based in Santa Ana, will be reinstated in a reorganized form or whether its services can be provided to the Latino community in some other way.
Johnson stressed that Concilio’s newly formed reorganization committee was working cooperatively with the United Way board and staff to resolve the agency’s problems. He said there would be no attempt to seek reimbursement of any of the $285,000 that Concilio received between 1980 and 1985.
The United Way investigation was sparked by complaints in early 1984 from members of the Latino community and by recommendation of the Orange County Grand Jury, which expressed concern over the quality of Concilio services to member agencies.
The controversial 9-year-old organization also was investigated for alleged mishandling of a November, 1983, voter-registration drive in which 282 Santa Ana barrio residents were unable to vote because documents were filed late.
Concilio and registration-drive organizer, political consultant Manuel Sepulveda, were later exonerated of any wrongdoing after investigations by the district attorney’s office, the grand jury and the county registrar of voters.
Founded in 1976 by a group of Latino community leaders and activists, Concilio was conceived as a private, nonprofit network for sharing management information and expertise, organizational skills and fund-raising techniques among health and human service agencies in the county’s growing Latino communities. It received the bulk of its operating funds from the United Way.
Though intended to unify the Latino community, Concilio has been mired in controversy from the beginning. There were disputes over which of the 18 or more member agencies would receive funds. And there were personality clashes among agency leaders and Concilio officials.
But no turmoil was as great as that surrounding former Concilio director Richard Jacques, a Yorba Linda Republican who left the agency last October when he was appointed assistant director of the California Employment Training Panel by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Amin David, one of Jacques’ harshest critics and who called for the various investigations, suggested Monday that Jacques’ management of Concilio led to the agency’s problems.
“We were requesting essentially that he (Jacques) be fired,” said David, an Anaheim-area tile importer and founding member of Concilio. “Concilio should have been providing expertise in accounting, teaching member agencies how to raise funds, and help in recruiting and retaining board members. . . .
“Instead, it was felt that Concilio (under Jacques) was more interested in hosting wine-and-cheese parties for local politicians, including (Orange County Supervisor) Roger Stanton,” said David, a Democratic activist.
David lamented the funding freeze to Concilio, saying the splintered organization has not had enough time since Jacques’ departure to “get all the gears going” and “join hands” again with the nine or so member agencies that quit in early 1984.
“I feel they have not been given enough time to get their act together,” he said, adding that he and other Latino activists remain concerned about United Way’s level of contributions to Latino community agencies.
But Gonzalo Fernandez, acting chairman of Concilio’s reorganization committee, said Monday that indications were “favorable” that the United Way board of directors would accept a reorganization plan.
Fernandez, vice president and regional manager for Crocker National Bank in Santa Ana, said that, at the very least, he was hopeful that Concilio’s network of services, if not the agency, would survive. He said one avenue being considered is to have a United Way staff person designated to provide that assistance with input from the Concilio board.
Johnson said that was one of a number of alternatives that would be considered Thursday.