NETO ordered to vacate building, ties cut
Franklin County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to give Northeast Texas Opportunities, Inc. (NETO) until August 31, 2015 to vacate the County’s building on 208 Taylor Street in Mount Vernon and terminated the lease agreement as well as discontinuing any funding or payment of utilities following a very lengthy special called meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Franklin County Judge Scott Lee said, “The building will be open and feeding people. It just may not be NETO.”
Following several irregularities Judge Lee stated he would prefer to dissolve ties with NETO and with the fact the NETO Board never discussed what to do about the $702,000 debt during their meeting.
“It is our responsibility to the citizens of Franklin County,” said Judge Lee, worried that despite their efforts the County could still be held liable. He questioned who was ultimately responsible and why the Board was not questioning these allegations. Judge Lee apologized to Precinct 2 Commissioner Larkin Jumper for assigning him to this Board especially after witnessing how he was treated at NETO’s last meeting. Commissioner Jumper was the most vocal on the subject of NETO, given his insight.
NETO Executive Director Beverly Logan was asked to speak before the Court. She defended her position saying they are still a “reputable organization” before requesting an opportunity to further explain in executive session due to being fearful of statements made in public while the investigation is pending.
The Court allowed her to explain the program in the open forum. Judge Lee asked Logan if she knew about the fraud. After hesitation she replied, “No, I didn’t.” He asked if the building on Taylor Street had been used to execute fraud. She replied, “Yes.” Logan became upset saying she was only attending this meeting because she wished to comment, not be put on trial. The Court asked why the by-laws were changed on May 27, 2015. She said it was because Head Start program required it due to theirs being outdated and it was over a year past due. The Court asked her who prepares the minutes for the Board meetings. She stated she did from audio tapes.
Logan became agitated with the questioning. She stated, “You don’t get to tell us to go forward or not. We are under contract with the State of Texas and not under contract with Franklin County.” Twenty-five minutes after the meeting began Logan walked out after stating she thought she needed an attorney.
Judge Lee called Diane McKinnon from Ark-Tex Area Agency on Aging to speak. She had written a formal notice to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) discontinuing their agreement with NETO as of June 5, 2014 due to a consistent breach of vendor agreement even after the Agency providing training and allowances to take corrective action.
McKinnon was informed on several occasions there was no food at the NETO site, and they were not adhering to the menu which forced her to seek out Senior Citizens Services, Inc or Lamar County Human Resources Council in other counties.
“We could not get what we needed from NETO and if we did it was wrong. It was a no win situation,” said Diane McKinnon as she feared loss of funding. Her department monitors vendors every two years.
Ark-Tex Council of Governments Executive Director Chris Brown spoke on a previous situation involving the TRAX transportation. He informed the Court, prior to his taking office, some of the TRAX buses were traveling to casinos along with other abuses of billing.
Judge Lee also said that he is working closely with ATCOG and Senior Citizens Services to ensure the county is able to provide meals for the elderly.
Executive Director of Senior Citizen Services Eden Leach told the Court she is ready to serve meals at the County’s multipurpose building if they were to be the new vendor. They currently provide meals to Bowie, Cass, Morris, Titus and Franklin counties.
“I am prepared to take on Franklin County – all I need are names and addresses,” said Eden Leach, with 17 years of experience, a clean inspection report and not under investigation. She currently oversees 52 employees serving over 18,000 meals in April. Senior Citizen Services was awarded the Titus County meal service program for 2014.
A letter from Hopkins County Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker was read into the minutes by Commissioner Jumper. It was dated Nov. 13, 2014 stating her opinion on how she believed NETO needed new management especially in regards to finances to protect the integrity of the organization. However no action by the NETO Board was ever taken.
The Court heard the pleas of elderly in the community for consideration of their social life and the quality of the meals at the meal center.
“This won’t change,” assured Judge Lee. “My position is to make things better.”
NETO employees expressed employment concerns especially of those who are over 60 years old. Meal delivery drivers also gave testimony.
Gerald Skidmore spoke in appreciation before the Court saying NETO was “good for old people, especially on a fixed income …If it weren’t for NETO, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Last year Delta County also moved their senior meal services to Lamar County Human Resources Council following issues with senior center rental agreement and meal complaints.
NETO, Inc. serves Delta, Franklin, Hopkins, Lamar, Morris, Rains, Red River and Titus. Investigations of NETO, Inc. continue both locally and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.