East Austin Nonprofit Mired in Controversy CEACO Sinking

Photo of Ginger Eways

Ginger Eways, executive director of CEACO,
declined to sit for a photograph.

photograph by John Anderson

On Dec. 9, at the height of the holiday season, not every Austin family had reason to celebrate. For poor and struggling families, the holidays can seem a cruel reminder that times are tough, which is where nonprofits like the Central East Austin Community Organization (CEACO) rise to the occasion with assistance for everything from the electric bill to food. However, if a needy family had called CEACO on Dec. 9 they would have heard the following message: "Thank you for calling the Central East Austin Community Organization. At the present time our basic needs program is out of funds. Please call back in January if you need assistance. My name is James." And while the answering machine was conveniently fielding calls from clients that evening, CEACO's board of directors was celebrating the season with a self-congratulatory dinner of steak and good cheer at the Texas Land and Cattle Company.

And "basic needs" assistance is not the only screw loose in the CEACO machine. The East Austin organization appears to be floundering in the face of funding hardships and administrative blunders. That conclusion is drawn based on exhaustive reviews of contracts between CEACO and its funding sources, internal CEACO memoranda, and interviews with one former CEACO employee, its executive director, deputy director, and board president, and others in the nonprofit community familiar with the agency. In the past three months CEACO:

  • Has been cited for disorganized accounting practices by Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services grant monitors. Austin/Travis County funds CEACO's basic needs program.
  • Failed to meet deadlines on its Texas Workforce Commission welfare-to-work program, and lost its relationship with the statewide Family Pathfinders welfare-to-work program, a relationship which was the partial basis of the TWC grant.
  • Defaulted on a promise to provide prizes to local schoolchildren for a Martin Luther King day contest.
  • Has been reprimanded for charging "unallowable costs" to the Texas Department of Health grant, for which TDH is seeking a partial refund.
  • Failed to make its full payroll during the holiday season.
  • Lost its program director, Boyd Vance, who resigned due to reservations about CEACO's policies.

From there, the troubles continue, as CEACO now awaits an audit by one of its major funding sources, the Texas Workforce Commission.

A detailed investigation into the funding and day-to-day operations of CEACO, located at 1715 E. Sixth Street, clearly shows a pattern of mismanagement. So far, Boyd Vance, the program director who resigned, is the only (now former) CEACO employee speaking out about what he calls the "chaos" at the half-million-dollar organization, but others who work closely with the agency in the nonprofit sector have joined his call to expose what they consider questionable business practices by CEACO executive director Ginger Eways. Still, the fact that boards first at Austin Rape Crisis Center and then at CEACO hired Eways despite her less-than-stellar record is as much a condemnation of the nonprofit community and its practices as it is of Eways and her ongoing career missteps.


Pattern of Behavior

This is not the first time Eways has been called on the carpet as an executive director. She worked her way up in the social services sector, beginning in 1973 at the Texas Rehabilitation Commission just after receiving her master's degree from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. In the early Nineties she landed the executive director's position at the Hays County Women's Center. One former employee of the center said many at Hays were shocked by the choice of Eways because of her lack of experience in women's advocacy issues. The dismay of the women's advocacy community followed Eways when she moved to head the Austin Rape Crisis Center (ARCC) in late 1994. She last made news in December 1996 when the Chronicle reported allegations that her mismanagement of the ARCC was causing the agency to founder. By January 1997, less than a month after the publication of that story, Eways had resigned her position as executive director and the agency began its eventual absorption by the Center for Battered Women (the conjoined agencies are now known as SafePlace). Although no one at SafePlace is eager to comment publicly about Eways, her alleged incompetence is widely discussed among area sexual assault and domestic violence workers and the local nonprofit community in general.

Although the kind of mismanagement cited in this story may be common among small nonprofits, Eways seems to get ratted out to the press because her personality is a poor fit for grassroots social service organizations. More than a dozen people interviewed by this reporter during the past three years have described Eways' personality as histrionic, paranoid, and lacking in social polish. On the other hand, Eways' supporters describe her as well-meaning and dedicated to social service work. "She's a very tender-hearted, good person, and sometimes she gets hurt really badly when she goes all out for someone and then her perception is that they turn on her," says James Thomas, CEACO's basic needs director. During interviews in 1996 and for this story, Eways was defensive and evasive, making it awkward to conduct the most basic of conversations.

In fact, when CEACO hired Eways, many who were familiar with her work questioned whether CEACO's 11-member board of directors, which is responsible for choosing the agency's executive director, could have known the full story behind Eways' work history. When she came to ARCC in 1994, tongues were already wagging because of her reputation in Hays County. One former employee of the women's center in Hays County says it is well known that Eways lost major grant funding and left the agency financially sinking when she moved on to ARCC. However, in her résumé (circa 1996), Eways says she increased net profit from a major fundraiser, cash reserves, and individual donations while at the Hays County agency.


Things Fall Apart

Since its inception in 1975, CEACO has always been a tiny agency with a small budget and a simple goal: helping people to help themselves. Though it may be easy to draw conclusions about CEACO given the current controversy, Eways says there's nothing more to the story than "growing pains." Indeed, she has significantly increased the agency's funding base since 1997. When she arrived, the agency's budget was $192,600; in 1998, Eways nearly doubled that amount, pulling in $387,000. Projected estimates for 1999 top $548,000.

CEACO is a broad-based nonprofit, providing a variety of presumably interrelated services and programs focused on low-income people in East Austin. These programs include welfare-to-work training, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, youth health education, and at-risk youth services. However, the most hands-on benefit of CEACO to East Austin is basic needs assistance, which provides needy families with small cash outlays for rent and bills, and/or food and clothing. The cash grants program is allotted only $850 per month, the least amount of funding for any program at the agency, and the food pantry is supplied in large part by donations from the Capital Area Food Bank. When this primary community benefit is regularly unavailable, CEACO's efficacy naturally comes into question.

Those basic needs funds at CEACO were off-line for most of November, December, and January. People who count on the agency to provide food often found their options limited to pasta and beans and were told to come back another day for better choices. Cash grants are routinely unavailable after the first of each month. Furthermore, CEACO's basic needs director, James Thomas, is usually not at the CEACO offices.

Which makes sense, since Thomas is actually a full-time employee of the United States Postal Service. According to a Jan. 22 letter from Vance to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Thomas "was hired [at CEACO] on full salary even though he only works Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4:00-6:00 p.m. plus flextime on the weekends." Thomas, who does not have a college degree, admits, "If people are in need of clothing or if they need emergency money for their electric being cut off, I'm the only one that can sign things." Yet Vance and one other source say that despite Thomas' authority, he is rarely on-site during working hours.

"I get calls all through the day," Thomas says. "If something comes up I have my pager and I respond to whatever calls I have to make." Thomas conducts CEACO business from the post office by returning the calls of needy families during his 15-minute breaks, explaining that "any person that's in management should be accessible."

Thomas says he puts in the bulk of his hours at night and on the weekends, when the CEACO office is closed. "A lot of times at night nobody sees me here. I built racks upstairs in the clothes closet. You see this?" he asks, gesturing around his tidy, spacious office. "I changed all this. This room looks a million times better. My wife and I did this on weekends." Thomas also insists that he starts work at CEACO every day at 2pm, although at least one source familiar with CEACO's day-to-day operation backs Vance's claim that Thomas only puts in six hours of work during the work week when the doors are open for CEACO's clients.

Every attempt by the Chronicle to ascertain the exact number of Thomas' paid, scheduled hours at CEACO led to confusion. In the first of two face-to-face interviews with Eways and Thomas, both insisted that Thomas is a 30-hour-per-week employee of the agency. In the second interview, Thomas revised that number to 20 hours per week. According to Vance, though, Thomas is supposed to be a full-time employee. The 1998-1999 contract between Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services and CEACO lists Thomas' full salary, which is paid by a combination of funding sources, as $30,000, which would be in keeping with full-time pay since the same contract lists Eways' salary as $45,000.

Even if Thomas were available, however, the answering machine would probably still field clients, since Thomas admits that the basic needs money is often gone by the first day of the month. "You could have heard that same [phone] message in September, October, November," Thomas explains, adding that the basic needs program has "around 17 clients."

However, according to CEACO's own projected numbers in 1998 and 1999, the agency should be amply funded for the basic needs program.CEACO projects in its 1999 contract with Austin/Travis County that it will receive $126,158 this year for the basic needs program, from the combined sources of Austin/Travis County, TWC, fundraising, and private grants (see chart, p.24). Of that sum, $60,000 comes from Austin/Travis County and the breakdown of how CEACO projects it will spend that funding is public information. But TWC's funding is a little harder to pin down.TWC director of communications David Beshear says he can find no documentation showing TWC has any relationship with CEACO's basic needs program, even though, in both 1998 and 1999, CEACO's contracts with Austin/Travis County project that CEACO would receive $17,878 from TWC to support basic needs. Might the presence of additional proposed funding on CEACO's contract with Austin/Travis County have been an influence on that institution's funding decisions?

The breakdown of how the $60,000 from Austin/Travis County is spent on basic needs clearly shows that CEACO spends $50,000 in order to dispense $10,000 to the public in the form of small cash grants. How the rest of the basic needs program -- the food pantry and clothes closet -- is paid for is not known by the Chronicle; however, Vance says that it is, in large part, donated by the Capital Area Food Bank and other charities.


Funding for Gift Baskets

However, there may be reasons other than the small amount of available funding to explain the problems with the basic needs program. In the first Chronicle interview, Eways defended the down-time of that program, explaining, "we had an incredible amount of service provision in December for the holiday projects -- Thanks-giving and Christmas baskets." She added that it was acceptable practice to spend more from the basic needs program in one month than in another. However, Eways' sometimes contradictory explanation of the holiday gift basket program suggests that CEACO used it to pad service numbers to Austin/Travis County and/or used resources from other CEACO programs to support it.

In a second, follow-up interview, Eways recanted, explaining that the holiday gift baskets were paid for by private sponsors, not by basic needs money. She then produced a report showing that 378 people had received basic needs assistance in the last quarter of 1998. When asked if that number included the families who received gift baskets, Eways replied that "even if the Christmas baskets are in there" it didn't matter because the number of basic needs clients whom CEACO served in 1998 exceeded projections. According to Vance and one other source, employees and associates of CEACO received Thanksgiving turkeys for their personal use through the gift basket program. Eways ignored further requests to explain the gift basket program, its funding, and the quarterly reports.

In addition, CEACO employee Kara Arteaga organized and implemented the gift basket program, although she was hired under an unrelated grant through the Texas Workforce Commission designed to mentor welfare mothers. Arteaga refused to comment for this story. "When you say [Arteaga] was the one that did [gift baskets], this was an agency project and every single person on staff and the board members also participated in this project. The person who was in charge of organizing it was Kara because she had superior organizational skills," Eways explains. It is worth noting that Thomas, who is the basic needs program director, did not oversee gift baskets.

The gift basket program is all the more suspect when one family who received a CEACO gift basket says it was more like getting coal in their stockings. Mateo Rodriguez, 23, the eldest of seven children in the low-income Rodriguez family, reports that after being promised a CEACO basket, Rodriguez's mother conscientiously contacted Blue Santa to cancel that program's annual delivery of electronics, toys, new clothing, and Christmas dinner. According to Rodriguez, when the CEACO gift basket arrived just before Christmas, "all my mother got were some stuffed dolls, which were used, and a bunch of socks."

Eways seemed personally offended by Rodriguez's story. "Let me ask you a question," she said. "Did you get the Rodriguez family to tell you about the year before? Well, I personally adopted that family last year so I suppose in comparison to what I did for the family probably a lot of things would not measure up to that. I spent my own money to make sure that they had a happy Christmas." Eways also says that if the Rodriguez family had less than they needed at Christmas that the blame should probably fall to Vance, who worked with the family in other areas of the agency. Vance, however, was not involved in organizing or implementing the gift basket program.


Plans Canceled

After wading through documents pointing to Eways' questionable management practices, CEACO program director Boyd Vance grew nervous and testy. Vance, a marketable Austin commodity in both arts and social justice circles [see "Art as Politics," below], is well-versed in the financial realities of nonprofits because he runs his own nonprofit, ProArts Collective of Austin, and has volunteered and worked in social services for over a decade. However, he says he began keeping one eye on his work and one eye on Eways as he watched her fumble a series of community relationships.

First, Eways apparently alienated the Family Pathfinders program, a statewide welfare-to-work program which concentrates on fostering community mentors. Pathfinders is staffed with federally funded workers who are invited to use facilities at nonprofits across the state, which is how Pathfinders' Marcia Williams came to CEACO in September. In November, the Texas Workforce Commission approved $126,262 for CEACO to start a welfare-to-work program called Success Women, based in part on CEACO's relationship with Pathfinders. But Williams abruptly moved out of the CEACO offices in mid-January and currently CEACO and Pathfinders are not working together. Pathfinders assistant director Betsy Bishop says that the decision to move was mutual, but according to Vance and another source associated with that decision, it was an internal Pathfinders decision directly related to Eways' management style.

Also catching in Vance's craw was the last-minute cancellation of CEACO's second annual Martin Luther King day march of schoolchildren down Congress Avenue to the Capitol building, which was combined with an art and essay contest in several elementary and high schools. As program director for CEACO, Vance was in charge of planning and implementing such high-profile events to build awareness of CEACO. In his vision of the event, the children would wear matching T-shirts, as they had the year before, and each would receive certificates for their participation. Winners of the art contest would receive gift certificates for art supplies and winners of the essay contest would win savings bonds issued with funds from the Austin Writer's League. Vance says that Eways supported this event, and Eways concurs.

Then in December, when the time came to pay the $300 deposit to use the Capitol grounds for the march, Eways said CEACO didn't have the money. She then informed Vance that the agency also didn't have the necessary $3,000 to make the children's t-shirts. Disappointed, Vance canceled the march and began concentrating on the contests. Then, three days before the contest winners were to be announced, he discovered that Eways had not budgeted funds for the children's prizes or even their participation certificates. With time running out, Vance drew from his own ProArts budget to buy the art contest prizes, but to date, the writing contest winners have still not received their savings bonds. Two teachers of winning students say that all their phone calls about the contest were routed to Vance, who no longer works at the agency.

The failure of the march is especially significant because Vance spent a good portion of his paid time planning it throughout the fall. Also, the march would have reached potentially thousands of children, thus fulfilling a large part of the "youth education" portion of CEACO's Austin/Travis County grant.

Eways explains the failure of the MLK program as purely financial. "There was a big delay in receiving checks from several funding sources at the end of the year ... we were certainly looking to receive some checks because cash flow was real tight," she says.


Boyd Vance Quits

It might have taken $3,500 to make the MLK event happen as Vance had originally planned it, but in the waning days of 1998 CEACO didn't even have enough money to pay its staff. Immediately following Christmas, CEACO's staff was asked to accept only three-quarters of their salaries and to agree not to cash those paychecks until Jan. 4, so the checks would not bounce. These financial constraints, in addition to the depleted status of the basic needs program, probably accounts for the desperate bid for funding which Eways then pulled out of her hat.

According to Vance, on Dec. 26, after having failed to produce a pre-Christmas fund drive mail-out, Eways asked him to pen a fundraising letter to CEACO's donors for the MLK event. Vance says he refused. A fundraising letter did go out on the 26th, however, which Eways wrote herself, to benefit the welfare-to-work program. Eways claims this letter netted approximately $3,000, which presumably benefited Success Women.

Then, on Dec. 30, Eways requested a $3,844.50 advance on CEACO's Texas Department of Health (TDH) grant, which funds immunization awareness in African-American communities. Vance speculates that Eways intended to use the $3,844.50 to pay for the entire MLK event -- since it is in the neighborhood of the amount needed for the Capitol deposit, children's t-shirts and contest prizes -- though an attorney familiar with nonprofit law says that using money earmarked for one program to fund another program could potentially have legal ramifications. At any rate, Eways' letter of request specifically stated that the advance would fund immunization outreach during the MLK events. Although Vance headed both the MLK march and the immunization program, he was never informed about the advance request or about plans to add immunization outreach to the MLK celebration.

However, before TDH could process the advance, the department began an audit of CEACO in early January.

Finally, on Jan. 22, Vance resigned from his position at CEACO. He says he heard through the grapevine on Jan. 21, when he took a sick day, that Eways had changed the locks on his office and was planning to fire him when he returned the following Monday. Instead, Vance filed his resignation citing "erratic staffing" and "funds being wasted and misapplied." Vance admits that he was also concerned about his future at the agency since the canceled TDH grant had provided a large portion of his salary.

CEACO's loss of Vance is especially unfortunate considering that his focus on HIV education and outreach accounted for $55,000 of Austin/Travis County funding, which he used to stage educational plays for children. Even Eways had to admit, "We'll be doing most of the services in the same way other than those things where Boyd was the program director and could bring his unique talents to bear."

Eways denies that she ever intended to fire Vance, explaining, "It is not unusual to change locks when we think there is any reason to do that. There was certainly no move afoot to fire him. I have nothing but the highest regard for his skills." Vance, on the other hand, says he was relieved to disassociate himself and ProArts from an agency he suspects is in a rapid state of decline.


Allegations Levied

In early November, again in December, and finally in a letter dated Jan. 22, Vance contacted County Judge Biscoe alleging "gross mismanagement and misapplication of funds." Biscoe relayed this information to Stephen Williams, the chief investigator for Travis County Health and Human Services. Williams then authorized an audit of CEACO by his agency. While the county auditor found "no major deficiencies," the one-page report, dated Feb. 26, did find CEACO lacking in proper accounting controls and made note of a missing Food Bank receipt for $202.60. Ironically, the audit was conducted by Hugh Beck, Travis County's contract monitor, whom CEACO had honored only two months earlier at a CEACO-sponsored "holiday thank you" luncheon.

TDH launched its own audit of CEACO following a Jan. 4 phone call from an anonymous woman who reported "gross mismanagement of funds" by CEACO, according to TDH documents. The most glaring deficiency cited in the 13 pages of TDH's findings was a lack of internal control over accounting. TDH is demanding a refund of $3,535 for a litany of "unallowable costs," including one occasion when CEACO charged the TDH grant for pantyhose and candy bars (see "Audit Findings" below). CEACO is preparing a point-by-point response to the TDH audit.

Eways denies knowledge of the section of the TDH audit that cites this receipt, but she explains that things like candy bars are often purchased for children's programs. "It's the nature of the program that things at first glance don't seem program-related, but in fact they are," she says. Vance has photocopies of over a dozen such receipts which include beer, sangria, a pregnancy test, a menopause kit, a Three Dog Night CD, panty liners, kitty litter, and a book titled Your Erroneous Zones, to name but a few. According to Vance, this file of receipts came to light when CEACO's administrative assistant, Gonzolo Soto, expressed concern to Vance about reconciling personal charges to various CEACO funding sources. Vance says Soto admitted that he kept a separate file of such receipts as a safety measure. Soto would not speak to the Chronicle. That TDH found only one questionable receipt could mean that Vance's receipt file doesn't reflect CEACO's accounting practices, or it could indicate that such charges are deftly spread among CEACO's funding sources. Eways says she knows nothing of this file.

CharlesPankey, a TDH employee and current president of CEACO's board of directors who is also a former ARCC board member, defends Eways. "When they hired Ginger they said, 'Ginger, write grants.' It takes an enormous amount of time to develop grants, so we've got this poor woman stretched to the max as it is. We can't fault her for not being able to watch every single solitary thing that occurs in this agency," Pankey says.

Eways would not comment on the TDH audit because she has not formally responded to it. She explains that due to her success at generating new funding sources in 1998 -- three new grants which created three new service areas for the agency -- bookkeeping at CEACO was not equipped to keep up with the added workload. "I'm not an accountant. I think that, all things considered, we've done a really good job of making all the kinds of changes that need to be made as we're growing and developing," she says.

If anyone is to blame, say both Pankey and Eways, it is Vance, although they admit that he had no responsibility or control over the agency's books. "You go back and look at the program that he was running, that's the program that was audited [by TDH]. Had he been the kind of program director [that he should have been], this probably would not have surfaced like this," says Pankey. Thomas goes one step further, asserting that Vance first set CEACO up to look bad and then brought the story to the press. Vance responds, "That's the biggest lie since the devil learned to talk."

As program director at CEACO, Vance developed and implemented programs, collected his receipts, and turned them in to Soto, who kept the agency's books. According to Vance, however, Soto is not qualified for the job. Eways ignored repeated requests to elucidate Soto's relevant bookkeeping experience.

After asking for the TDH advance and receiving an audit instead, Eways abruptly canceled the TDH grant, an unusual move for a nonprofit. She explains her decision: "We signed the contract and then we got to thinking about it and decided, 'No, we just really don't want to continue receiving this grant.' Particularly because it's a very, very small grant." The $22,611 TDH grant would have comprised 4% of CEACO's proposed 1999 budget. She continues: "What we discovered was that we could continue to provide [immunization outreach] through our association with community service organizations." CEACO has asked the East Austin Rotary Club, of which Eways is a member, to take over immunization outreach in the African-American community.

In the wake of the Austin/Travis County and TDH audits, TWC is now gearing up to conduct its own investigation, according to David Beshear, director of communications for TWC. In all likelihood, that audit will uncover CEACO's failure to meet its contracted goals. The TWC contract with CEACO explicitly states that between Nov. 15 and Jan. 1, the Success Women program was projected to enroll 60 participants; yet it enrolled none during that time. Meanwhile, Success Women's program coordinator, Kara Arteaga, was managing CEACO's gift basket program while her salary was charged to TWC. To date, Eways says, Success Women, which is supposed to reach 200 women by November 1999, has had 30 "referrals," though she admits that the program did not see any clients until January.


Questionable Practices

A review of Eways' job performance is enough to beg the most obvious question surrounding CEACO, which is "How does Ginger Eways continue being hired to run nonprofits?" Former employees and associates who worked with Eways at Hays and ARCC cite problems similar to those at CEACO, including: lack of employee confidence, mismanagement of funds, misuse of employees' funded time, hiring unqualified, non-degreed employees to perform skilled work, and an overall lack of agency efficacy. While the TDH findings and recommended remedies may improve Eways' legendary poor accounting practices, funders can do nothing to change CEACO's policies or staffing, aside from withholding funding or referring their concerns to the district attorney's office.

But Eways' mismanagement is never so blatant as to elicit criminal charges. Instead it is petty, insidious, and difficult to measure. Her penchant for making the same mistakes over and over, from agency to agency, suggests that her worst offense is simple incompetence. And rumors of alcoholism have followed her from Hays County to ARCC to CEACO. When asked about these rumors in a 1996 interview, she denied having a drinking problem. Though no one will put their name on the accusation, at least one former associate or employee at all three agencies has recounted similar stories of alcohol on Eways' breath and erratic behavior suggesting low-level intoxication. Vance and another person associated with CEACO say that Eways routinely started work after noon, and similar claims were made by former employees of ARCC. It is interesting to note that off-the-record sources at all three agencies perpetuated this rumor.

Nor is that the only common thread. "It was very clear that she was not capable in fiscal management of the organization. By the time she left, Hays was suffering fiscally," explains one former employee of the Hays County Women's Center. This former employee went on to explain that Eways failed to file for one of the major grants which funded the agency. The source added that "people were not performing the jobs they were supposed to do," meaning that employees who were funded for one program would, as policy, be working for another program. No one who is currently with what is now the Hays-Caldwell Women's Center would comment for this story either regarding Eways or on the fiscal state of the center during Eways' tenure.

When Eways, in 1994, applied to head the Austin Rape Crisis Center, the same former employee of Hays was asked her thoughts. "I told them, generally, that she was incompetent," the former employee says, adding that she was "shocked" to find Eways hired to head ARCC.

What happened to ARCC after Eways took over is a matter of well-documented public record. As was reported in The Chronicle of Dec. 20, 1996: "Eight people formerly involved with [ARCC] and two current volunteers say that ... Eways, together with powerful newcomers to the center's 22-member board, have lost sight of ARCC's original purpose." These former ARCC supporters charged that Eways ended the public education component of ARCC, weakened minority outreach, gutted the volunteer training program, and eliminated the peer counseling program. In addition, Eways' assistant at ARCC, Jamie Avila, who did not have a college degree, replaced an entire department of degreed personnel who had been fired and subsequently assumed a great deal of responsibility at ARCC. Everyone who spoke against Eways for the ARCC story cited her disinterest in the hands-on, grass-roots aspects of the center's work in favor of developing high-profile programs to attract increased funding. After a protracted, philosophical battle between ARCC's grassroots supporters and its big-money donors, the entire issue became moot when ARCC's finances proved so decimated that absorption into SafePlace proved the only means to continue providing rape crisis support in Austin. As with Hays County, SafePlace representatives refused to comment on the state of ARCC's books immediately following Eways' departure.


It's the System

It's no excuse, but Eways is only exploiting the already-existing, easily manipulated, nonprofit system. First, the performance measures required by CEACO's funders are largely qualitative, not quantitative. That is, the numbers of people served by the agency are counted in categories like "clients served who report an improvement in attitude/behavior" and who "increase awareness and practice of healthy behaviors." These are lofty and important goals, but are, perhaps, resistant to quantitative accounting. Another example: If the agency develops a brochure about the availability of immunizations and makes that brochure available at an outdoor event which is attended by 10,000 people, then theoretically each of those 10,000 could be cited to funding sources as having been "reached" by CEACO.

Second, these performance measures are the only yardstick against which a funder has to measure the success of CEACO's programs. If CEACO applies for a grant and signs a contract with a funding source promising to serve 300 people, and can reasonably make a case that 300 people were "reached," then the funding source has no call to say that the agency is not performing its duties. In the audits cited in this story, funding sources did not monitor the actual delivery of CEACO's services, they only looked at CEACO's books. In other words, if CEACO says they delivered services to clients, then they did.

In theory, at least, no single funder of CEACO could cause the agency's undoing. CEACO's funding sources cannot fire or discipline Eways or the agency in any way other than to cancel their grant altogether, or to demand that the agency refund grant money. Even then, CEACO would be free to seek funding from any other source, the availability of which in the private, nonprofit, and government -- which includes quasi-governmental, city, county, state and federal -- sectors is practically infinite. Add to this the fact that CEACO's stated mission -- "Helping people help themselves" -- is so broad that everything from immunization outreach to mentoring welfare moms to food banks is within their purview. In other words, CEACO is unlikely to run out of potential funding sources.

So, as at most nonprofits, it falls to the board of directors to discipline, fire, or reward Eways as it sees fit. This is the same board of directors which celebrated the holiday season while CEACO's answering machine took calls from hungry families and, in fact, threw two other bashes at the Austin Club during December. Pankey defends the board's parties, explaining that they were paid for out of the board members' own pockets. Regardless of where the money came from, however, there is a problem of perception when the board of a small, under-funded nonprofit which exists to help hungry families is living high on the holiday hog.

It is worth noting that of the 11 members on the CEACO board, only one was there before Eways' executive directorship -- former board president J.B. Payne, who joined the board in 1996. Pankey moved with Eways from ARCC to CEACO in 1997 and was joined in 1997 by his fellow TDH employee Suzzanna Cortez Currier. (Even though CEACO has taken measures to ensure that no conflict of interest occurs, it is worth noting that having board members from agencies that are also funding sources is not common practice.) Four new members joined the board last year, and the remaining four joined in January. In other words, with only monthly update meetings on CEACO's progress, provided from Eways' own point of view, it may take a while for CEACO's board, or any similar nonprofit board, to even sense that there are problems at the agency. Fortunately for Eways, CEACO board president Pankey is used to defending her from ARCC days. After the TDH audit was made public, Pankey was the only board member who returned the Chronicle's phone calls.

Despite the fact that this is the second time Eways has made news as an executive director, however, the nonprofit community is not eager to speak out publicly about her. Which, of course, is the crux of the entire problem. Funding for social services is both highly competitive and highly politicized. If Eways is outed as a poor manager, it may call into question the management of nonprofits all over the city. As such, circling the wagons around Eways seems to be designed less to protect her reputation than it is to protect the reputation of the nonprofit sector in general.

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