in Houston, Texas
Board members often absent from meetings of Amarillo nonprofit under state investigation
Thursday, Apr 19, 2012, 01:56PM CST
By Steve Miller

Here’s one that's hard to understand: A nonprofit that appears on paper to be a hard-working, benevolent operation, handing out grants for weatherization and housing assistance to the needy is under state investigation. The Amarillo Globe-News reports that as financial problems surfaced, board meetings of Panhandle Community Services were meagerly attended - by its own board members.

An average of 72 percent of the 14-member board attended bi-monthly meetings dating back to April 2011. The board oversees a budget of $29 million.

Which would create a problem.

With nearly a quarter of the board missing each month, Panhandle can’t account for $400,000. An auditing firm brought in by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs found that the missed meetings hinder Panhandle’s ability to get a grip on sound business decisions.

Panhandle keeps its salary expense low and its grant-to-revenue ratio high, which makes it look good to most reviewers. According to its tax form 990, its director, Phyllis Cook, makes $94,000 a year, peanuts compared to the heads of many nonprofits.

The red flag appears to have been the meager attendance at board meetings, where expenditures and allocations need to be carefully pored over and discussed. Board members include three judges and a couple of clergymen.

Besides, with weatherization programs, what could go wrong? Big surprise - Panhandle indeed swooped in for some of that federal stimulus money.

Tonight’s meeting looks to be a barn-burner, as they might say in those parts.

The auditing firm, according to the minutes of the last meeting, “found the board of directors has failed. The board has not received or requested necessary information to take care of 30-million-dollar businesses with policies, which are not adhered to.

"They looked at 17 personnel files with no annual reviews…there is an issue with six board members whose terms have expired…there appears to be a complete failure to train the board and staff of their responsibilities.”

Finally, the 72 percent board turnout may make good decisions difficult, but that’s nothing compared to the board turnout at an October meeting of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, when 12 of 24 board members bothered to show up.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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