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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Minority affairs commission diverted money, didn’t track it, auditors say

OLYMPIA – A Washington commission on minority affairs improperly funneled some $258,000 into a former member’s non-profit organization and didn’t keep the required paperwork on how much of it was spent, state auditors said Thursday.

The Commission on African-American Affairs diverted the money into a non-profit run by former commission member Thelma Jackson over a five-year period, Sarah Mahugh, the manager of the team that performed an accountability audit on the agency’s books.

The money came from donations to the commission from different organizations and foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But once it was donated to the commission, that money became state funds and subject to the same restrictions as money from the Legislature.

About $69,000 of the total was spent for things not allowed under state law, such as training people to lobby the Legislature, transporting and feeding them. Of that amount, $22,000 was spent for transportation, $6,750 for entertainment and $3,500 for rain ponchos. The non-profit also paid young African Americans $25 each to attend an event.

Auditors couldn’t find contracts for some $103,000 for services, so they couldn’t determine whether those payments were allowable. Another $96,000 in payments couldn’t be tracked because the payee or the purpose couldn’t be determined.

The decision to divert the money was made by former commission executive director Rosalund Jenkins, auditors said. She has since been replaced and the new director, Edward Prince, canceled the contract with the Northwest Institute for Leadership and Change after he was appointed in 2012.

At that point, the institute returned all unspent funds, which amounted to $155, auditors said.

Mahugh said the Auditor’s Office has not referred the case to local prosecutors and the commission has made changes.

Responding to the audit, commission staff said it has new internal controls to keep funds from being diverted in the future.

“The findings are an unfortunate part of our history and all the staff and members of the commission can do now is move forward and continue to build the public trust,” the commission rote in response to the audit.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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