Meadville Tribune

October 9, 2013

Counties trying to untangle mess following regional job training agency audit

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

— Robert Snyder Jr., chairman of the Northwest Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board, is blunt in his assessment of actions by the previous board after a recent state audit found questionable and wasteful spending.

“We need to clean it up and get it straightened out,” Snyder said on Wednesday following a meeting of the six chief local elected officials who now oversee the regional job training agency.

The Workforce Investment Board (WIB) is responsible for job training in Crawford, Erie, Venango, Warren, Forest and Clarion counties.

“This has been a long time getting messed up, and it’s going to take a long time to fix it,” according to Snyder, chairman of the six chief local elected officials (CLEOs) — one from each of the six counties — who now oversee the WIB. Snyder also serves as one of Forest County’s commissioners.

The 51-page state audit, released Aug. 12 by the Governor’s Budget Office, lambasted spending and the lack of fiscal transparency by the nonprofit Regional Center for Workforce Excellence (RCWE) of Meadville, the then fiscal agent of the WIB. The 51-page state audit covered the period of July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012.

Local government officials were the ones who sought the audit.

Formed in 2003, the RCWE was put in Meadville to be centrally located for the six counties. According to the state report, the RCWE received $12 million in federal job training funds from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012.

The state audit said the RCWE “has pushed the limits of their authority,” and has “not always been clear in the information provided to decision makers.” In some instances, the fiscal agent “ignored the guidance or requests” of the CLEOs, the auditors said.

On Aug. 19, the CLEOs who oversee the WIB unanimously voted to suspend the then 46-member WIB board for up to 90 days and have the six act as the WIB board’s executive committee; and appointed the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry as the acting fiscal agent.

“I have no clue,” Snyder responded when asked if anyone could end up facing criminal charges.

Financial information from the RCWE is being forwarded to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to review where the money was spent, Snyder said. The Department of Labor and Industry oversees job training at the state level.

“We need to respond to the audit, restructure the WIB, get it back up and running and get this resolved by the end of the year,” Snyder said. “I don’t like that time frame because I’m not a patient person.”

The CLEOs are considered the grant recipients, and the counties are liable for any misuse of grant funds, according to Jack Lynch, Crawford County’s representative who oversees the WIB. Lynch serves as treasurer of the CLEOs.

Lynch has said Crawford and the other counties ultimately would be held liable for any potential misspending of funds. Until the state review is completed later this year, it’s unknown how much, if any, money may have been misspent and whether it would have to be repaid.

The audit had five major findings — board members, former board members and business partners of board members benefited financially from relationships with the WIB; the RCWE exceeded its authority and lacked transparency; unallowable, wasteful and misuse of workforce development funds; a lack of internal controls over accounting; and inaccurate accounting and use of grant funds.

Among the audit findings were instances of meeting minutes that were edited by RCWE personnel to omit specific information, and that financial statements “lacked clarity.”

The audit found between 2010 and 2012, $113,474 was expensed to the “Food Meetings” category in the RCWE’s accounting system.

The audit found lunches were purchased by the fiscal agent’s chief executive, for herself and other non-employees on a regular basis, with no documented business reason to have these meetings during lunch or even to have the meetings.