Investigators eye senior center books

By Lynn R. Parks

An investigation by the state auditors office into the Bridgeville Senior Center found more than $357,000 in accounting errors over a two-year period. The centers financial records were so poorly kept that the auditor was unable to assess the performance of the center, a report released last week said.
With the volume of Bridgeville Senior Centers general ledger errors and overall accounting system deficiencies, there is no way to reconstruct any type of financial reporting or reliable data to do a program performance evaluation,, the report said. This, compounded with insufficient record keeping and reconciliations, puts the organization at risk for ongoing fiscal mismanagement.
In addition, the report said, the centers executive director, Annette Cannon, and the president of the centers board, Gary Cannon, are husband and wife, a violation of the centers policy. On several occasions, a contracting firm owned by Gary Cannon has been hired by the center to do construction work there.
The report made no judgement whether the poor record keeping was intentional. The [center] may have operated this way because they lack knowledge of even basic appropriate fiscal practices or to veil inappropriate fiscal activity, it said.
Contacted at the center on Monday afternoon, Annette Cannon did not address the findings of the report directly. We are working with the auditors office to clear up everything that we can, she said.
The Bridgeville Senior Center is an independent facility. It has no affiliation with CHEER, the county-wide program for senior citizens.
The investigation was prompted by reports to the auditors office that the senior center was incorrectly hiring employees and contractors and inappropriately appointing board members. There were also allegations that the center was misusing funds and had insufficient internal oversight over its activities.
The auditors office looked at center records from November 2012 through October 2014. It found $357,590 worth of errors in the centers six checking accounts. Due to the nature of the records, we were unable to substantiate the propriety of the transactions,, the office reported.
There were other problems, too.
The senior centers policy manual doesnt lay out internal controls that would help to keep the center fiscally healthy, the report said.

Minutes of meetings of the centers board were in shambles. There isnt documentation in the minutes that budgets and expenditures were sufficiently controlled, or that the board made fiscally prudent decisions that were in compliance with its own policies.

New board members appear in the minutes without any explanation as to when they were voted on and two board members who resigned were recorded as absent, one of them for nearly a year. Other board members are identified by nickname only, making it hard to distinguish who was in attendance.
Over the two years of the investigation, construction work done by a company owned by Gary Cannon totaled nearly $19,000. In early 2013, before Gary Cannon was on the board and while his wife was the centers activities coordinator, his company was hired to do work on the roof. When its bid came in higher than a bid submitted by another company, Cannon was given the chance to resubmit a proposal.
The second bid came in more than $1,000 lower than the first bid.
In February 2014, the center again hired Cannons company, to do repairs to the centers bathrooms. That project came to a halt when the town of Bridgeville determined that the center didnt have the proper permits.
Another construction company was subsequently hired to complete the work. That hiring was accomplished without going through the bidding process, a violation of the centers policy manual.
The auditors office also found that when she was activities director, Annette Cannon was mistakenly paid twice for a pay period in July 2013. We found no evidence that the duplicate pay was rectified or reimbursed, the report says.
Most of the centers revenue comes through the states Grant-in-Aid Funding. In fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015, the center received $158,667 each year. Total revenue in 2013 was $187,007, in 2014 was $218,233 and in 2015 was $193,406.
The centers second largest source of income is money that it raises selling scrapple sandwiches during the Apple-Scrapple Festival. Its third largest source is private donations.
It also received $5,000 from the Sussex County Council in each of the fiscal years that the report addressed.
In a statement accompanying the report, the auditors office said that it is working with the states Controller General office to determine what changes could be made to help groups that receive Grant-in-Aid keep track of its money.
We certainly do not want to overburden these entities with excessive administrative requirements, the statement said. But it is obvious something must be done to encourage these organizations to improve operations and fiscal governance.
Spokeswoman Kathleen Davies said that the auditors office will also work with the Controller General to develop a performance plan for the senior center.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.