SDC: Scandal, Deception, Chaos plagues the Social Development Commission.
Taking a closer look at the largest poverty resource agency in Wisconsin and their accountability in Milwaukee.
SDC, The Social Development Commission has come under fire lately for some of its practices, spending, and accountability.
Suppose I were to tell you Governor Scott Walker used and flew in the most expensive consultants from Michigan, treated his staff to aromatherapy, lavish parties with expensive menus and party frills, provided dental and mental health evaluations for administration and his staffers, okayed first-class flights for incoming consultants, and despite having qualified staff, used outside contractors costing the state $633,999 you would be outraged! Recall would be eminent.
This is exactly what is going down at SDC right now.
The Journal Sentinel too has reported on some unsettling discrepancies within SDC. One example being that $20,000 was spent training the board on new policy governance which the board untimely did not use because the policy change gave the CEO way too much power with little oversight. $20,000 up in smoke! Imagine if a government official did this. There would be outrage and recalls and heads would roll. But SDC kept on moving with very little mention of this waste. Money that could have been used for the poor, money desperately needed in these tough economic times. Debacles like this are of the utmost importance to us especially in the Black community because we depend on these services heavily to help make ends meet or to survive at all. With the Black unemployment rate being so high in Milwaukee, the services that SDC provide are critical to inner city families, single parent homes, and the elderly.
Some of the assistance SDC provides are Head Start, service to the elderly, energy assistance, tax preparation services, Wisconsin Works, Ways to Work, and the W-2 emergency assistance to families to list a few. Some of their programs have been suspended or ended because of financial issues or in the case of Ways to Work, too many delinquent accounts caused the program to collapse. They service a good number of people who desperately need these resources to stay alive literally. They also have other programs designed to strengthen the family, assist those who need help for addiction education, and sponsorship of programming for the community by the community.
Money is scarce and to waste thousands to hundreds of thousands is unconscionable.
SDC has come under fire because of their accountability, releasing an internal audit showing many flaws in the agency’s bookkeeping and accounting specifically. Some issues are being corrected like filing for charitable non-profit status, others still await attention. These flaws directly impact the monies available to the poor, keep possible donors from giving to the organization, and question the group’s commitment and intergrity to the community the agency claims to serve religiously.
SDC’s CEO, Deborah Blanks defends the agency’s practices and activities. She oversees $54 million dollars of SDC’s budget. Her current salary is $144,000. That is quite a hefty salary for an anti-poverty agency CEO. Some board members including Fred Royal Jr. (and remember that name), defend Blanks and SDC’s actions and believe this is a media attack, but is he right? Not in the least bit!! It is called accountability and caring about the very community we see as needing protection from predators that see agencies like SDC as stomping grounds for their cavalier lifestyles. No Mr. Royal Jr. this is not an attack, this is called protecting our fellow neighbor in need.
Using the same analogy with Governor Walker in the opening, we in the Black community would have been outraged! To know that a poverty agency tasked to help a sadly growing number of poor in Milwaukee seeing fit to spend money without caution or best practices is even worse. It is almost criminal. Our lack of outrage is also very upsetting to me. Reading the Milwaukee Community Journal the other day, the “Question of the Day” responses had no problems with the revelations of the SDC. I personally was sickened by it. Sometimes I think we forget about others and as long as we have been helped, who cares? We need to care! We can no longer live by the code that “I got mine, better get yours” mentality. People made fun of those lined up last week in preparation for the WE Energy moratorium lift but why is that funny? Regardless of our judgment of those people, they still needed assistance. Families needed energy and electricity and so we should laugh at their plight not truly knowing what their plight may be? This is what I saw constantly in the last weeks posted in social media chat rooms and networks, judgment and laughter. When one thinks of it, we may never know when that person we laugh at may be one of us.
Promise and Hope
Courageously some of the SDC board members have spoken out against the waste and lack of good oversight in SDC programming. They think it could run more efficiently and provide better service to more of the poor if the SDC would get its act together. They are actively seeking resolution to the issues facing the organization. Just by their courage to voice their concerns, change is eminent I pray.
SDC is no stranger to controversial spending and unfair practices. For example some summers ago during a scorching hot heat wave, SDC board members gave away air conditioners to family and friends instead of the elderly it was supposed to give them to. Some of these elderly people died in that heat wave. SDC was slapped on the hand but no one saw jail time. In fact one of those who did this went on to be honored as a community hero. I won’t name the person since they have left this earth and cannot defend themselves. Another board member who did this is still in public service and was never reprimanded for her role in this scheme. Those who remember this horrific episode know exactly who I am referring to. It has been over a decade now and this board is not that same board. However with the board at odds with SDC practices, one wonders how SDC can serve the poor until it cleans its fiscal house? Blanks, who has held this position an adequate amount of time, allowed for these issues to fester causing possible loss of funding. She oversaw the hiring of someone unqualified by SDC standards to manage a program minus a degree the position required, and bends the rules as she sees fit. Exactly how long do we continue to let her and those who agree with her to manage $54 million dollars if they have proven they are not good stewards of the poor and defenseless? Maybe SDC needs to clean house altogether.
Where SDC is at Now
As it stands SDC stands to loose its funding for Head Start and will have to bid on the program. This program serves over 3000 children and was designed to help little ones reach their maximum potential. The end result is to have these children at the same learning potential as their counterparts that we find are already at or above national kindergarten standard abilities. These kids need Head Start and without it or some type of programming similar to it will face a terrible uphill climb alone.
As an aside even President Obama is working to fix Head Start as many educators and experts in early learning education have reported that Head Start has become an outdated and an ineffective program that needs major reworking. President Obama has assigned a task force and finances to help the Federal program retool its curriculum and revise its outcomes-based goals to once again better meet the needs of those in the program. Locally many area daycares and childcare centers are no longer using the Head Start Program because of the inadequacy of the curriculum and are now using alternative educational methods that have shown aggressive and proven results preparing young ones to compete and excel at a much higher level once they reach school age.
Back to SDC
SDC’s board is comprised of 18 members, 6 members from community agencies, 6 members from the community at large, and 6 members holding public office. Two member positions remain vacant at present. For board member information see the inserted link:
The Executive Team:
Some board members say SDC would be more efficient if it was accountable and transparent in its business practices. It needs to hold program directors accountable to acceptable standards, and spend wisely. As we all know given this economy, agencies like SDC are overwhelmed with the number of those in need. They are the first responders for poverty assistance and need to take this position with more seriousness now more than ever before.
Family we need to be the advocates for the poor always. What is going on at SDC needs to be addressed immediately and vigorously. The poor in our community depend on us to be their voice as they find ways to stay above water. This means contacting SDC and being vigilant about SDC’s progress in dealing with their accountability issues. No more first class flights or aromatherapy, this is money better spent helping more people find resources to make ends meet. As it is often said silence is compliance. Let us voice loudly our concern for the poor and helpless. Let us make SDC a more reliable source in the fight against poverty and show compassion in its work.
For more about SDC and contact information lease visit the link below.