Safe Place, Inc. Board of Directors President Michael Barr says Safe Place, Inc. is looking to hire six part-time shelter advocates and one crisis intervention advocate in preparation for reopening the shelter. The shelter has been closed since June when the state, federal, and private agencies and foundations that provided the bulk of the funding for Safe Place, Inc. through grants suspended those grants pending an investigation into the alleged misuse of funds by a former employee. That investigation, being conducted by the Texas Rangers, is still ongoing.
"It won't be full-time like what we had," said Barr. "We are going to offer all of our services, and we will be open full-time, shelter. As far as the administration, we are not hiring those positions now."
Barr says the board has not heard anything from the grantors about reinstating the grants. "It seems like they are waiting to see what happens with the charges, indictments, that kind of thing, " he added. "To be in compliance with the Texas Department of Human Services (one of the main grantors), we have to have a shelter in operation. Part of our contract is to have a 24-hour shelter."
Barr says part of the decision to lay people off back in June was to conserve money that Safe Place, Inc. had in reserve. That money will now be used to restart the agency. As to how long Safe Place, Inc. can operate without the grants, "It's one of those things, with a lot of prayer and faith, we are going to open it up," he said.
Barr says the board has received guidance from the grantors and local agencies, such as Family Support Services in Amarillo and Panhandle Community Services, about moving forward, but the grantors have not given the board a set of required changes in the management of the agency that would have to be implemented before the grants would be reinstated. "We have made some changes. The board has reviewed all of our policies and procedures. We have some really good policies and procedures, and we will share those with the grantors. They want to see what our plan and path looks like. They didn't give us things that we had to do. They wanted to see what we are going to do, and that will be part of their approval process," said Barr
On the subject of the spending of agency money by employees, from which the current troubles stem, Barr says the board has instituted new procedures. "It will be a little bit more cumbersome, but it will be a lot more effective for security. Purchases will have to be presented in a purchase order. That will have to be approved by a supervisor, then approved by the executive director, then presented for payment, then treasurer and board signs off on it. It will be refused if procedure not followed."
It is not clear whether the new procedures would have prevented the current situation. Barr says he cannot comment on issues related to the ongoing investigation.
Barr says Chris Fobbs will continue working as interim executive director on a part-time basis. The board will hire someone permanent when "the agency is completely put back together." Doel Cordero will continue to be the treasurer for the board. Former finance director Ginger Parks, who is now working part time at Safe Place, Inc., will be allowed to reapply for her position as finance director in the future.
As to the other laid-off employees, including those who initially made the board aware of potential wrongdoing in the agency, they will be allowed to reapply for positions in the future, but will not be automatically rehired when or if full funding is restored.
"Our intent was to restructure. The organization is not what it was. We do not have the same positions," said Barr. "It was clear from the first that everyone would be able to go through the application process."
The situation at Safe Place, Inc. has generated a lot of public discussion and rumors. "You can hear a lot of things. The truth is one thing, and the rumor is something else," said Barr. "I'll guarantee you we are making the best decisions for Safe Place, Inc. With all the things considered, the right decisions will be made."