We have conducted a special review of Women's Advocates, Inc., a private, non-profit organization that received per diem and grant payments from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Women's Advocates, Inc. was incorporated in 1972 to help women successfully leave violent relationships, to teach children and youth to use non-violent alternatives when relating to others, and to change community attitudes about domestic violence through information and education. For fiscal years 2001 through 2003, the state provided the organization nearly $5 million as per diem or grant awards.
Our objective in conducting this special review was to answer the following question:
Women's Advocates, Inc. did not have appropriate controls to ensure that it spent state funds for reasonable and necessary costs of the program and in accordance with legal requirements and grant contract provisions. As explained in Finding 1, the board did not adequately oversee the operation of the organization to ensure that state funds were spent for the benefit of the program. The board's lack of sufficient controls allowed the executive director to borrow $30,000 for short-term personal use. The board also did not set or monitor the executive director's compensation. The board did not formally evaluate the executive director's performance for at least two years and was not aware that the executive director had not evaluated other management staff. The board did not establish guidelines to ensure the appropriateness of expenditures. The organization expended $1,300 for unauthorized political contributions and unreasonable home office furnishings that were not recovered. The board may need to repay the state for these transactions.
As discussed in Finding 2, the former executive director of Women's Advocates, Inc. supplemented her compensation by determining her own salary increases and bonuses, setting the employer contribution amount paid to her retirement fund, and cashing in excessive paid-time-off hours. The board recovered $21,500 from the retirement fund as unauthorized compensation. She also supplemented the compensation of other staff by paying bonuses and allowing them to cash in excessive hours of paid-time-off beyond the terms agreed to by the board. From January 1, 2000, through September 30, 2002, staff received unauthorized compensation totaling nearly $194,474. Women's Advocates, Inc. needs to repay the Department of Public Safety for the unauthorized and unreasonable costs.