Spokane County commissioners will limit the county’s role in an agency they contend wastes money.
On Tuesday, commissioners gave 30 days’ notice that the county no longer will keep track of finances for the Spokane County Community Network, which deals with children’s issues and operates independent of county government.
The network will have to find another fiscal agent.
The fiscal agent, which can be any local government agency, keeps the network’s books and pays bills with public money funneled through the state Family Policy Council. The network paid the county’s Community Services Department 2 percent of its budget for accounting work.
The network chairman said commissioners have the wrong impression. The network is financially responsible and its board members work long hours without compensation, said John Kohls.
The director of the Family Policy Council said a recent review by his office showed the network should tighten some of its financial controls. “We have not encountered anything that is inappropriate, only a matter of best and better practices,” said David Brenna. “I’m disappointed that the county has chosen this course.”
The Spokane network and 52 others statewide were formed by the Legislature to tackle teen pregnancy, youth violence, child abuse and other problems kids face.
Kasey Kramer, community services director and the county’s representative on the network’s board, told commissioners in July he didn’t think the network was keeping close enough control of its money.
Kramer complained the network was spending too much - about 64 percent of its $586,000 budget for two years - on consultants, office costs, lobbying and surveys. The rest of the money went to agencies that help teenage fathers care for infants, help single mothers get jobs and otherwise bolster families.
In response to Kramer’s concerns, commissioners requested a state audit, which is not finished. A private auditor hired by the network found minor problems that “will not be difficult to correct,” Kramer told commissioners.
Kramer told commissioners that the network board “continues to struggle and cannot seem to make a firm decision and then follow it.”
Kohls said he was surprised Kramer’s report to commissioners was so negative. The network already has corrected the problems cited by the independent auditor, he said.
“We felt that we were addressing (Kramer’s) concerns and were not aware that he was unhappy with the results,” Kohls said.
Kramer told commissioners that the network already was looking for a new fiscal agent even before the county severed ties.
“They want someone who would ask fewer questions, perhaps?” asked Commissioner Kate McCaslin.
“Yeah,” answered Kramer.
That’s not the case, said Kohls. The network talked to other agencies only to see if any could do the work cheaper and because some board members thought “it might be easier for Kasey to operate as a board member” if he weren’t also the bookkeeper.
Controversy about the mission of networks statewide has grown since they were formed in 1994.
Some politicians and social workers argue the networks spend too much money on administration and too little helping kids. Network supporters say the work they’ve done - helping nonprofit groups find ways to better track successes and failures, for instance - eventually will make social service agencies more efficient.
The goals of the Spokane network include cutting teen violence, poverty and drug abuse by 15 percent by 2006, and cutting the drop-out rate by 10 percent by 2001. Its plan calls for more cooperation between agencies and more accountability for social service spending.
In a July letter, commissioners warned they would remove Kramer from the network board and leave the county’s seat vacant unless more of its budget went to services.
The three commissioners decided Tuesday not to take that step because Kramer, in the words of Commissioner John Roskelley, “has been the only watchdog on this group.”
, DataTimes MEMO: FROM FOR THE RECORD (Thursday, October 9, 1997): Story reprinted: Due to production problems, some newspapers circulated Wednesday failed to carry the entire text of this front-page local news story. It was reprinted on Thursday, October 9, 1997 on page B2. Story appears here, in complete text.