Dispute over $600K contract led to investigation, departures

A dispute over a summer youth job program — including criminal investigations into one of the directors — lead to the departure of top Clark County officials and an investigation into a nearly $600,000 contract.

Two private agencies, Opportunities for Individual Change of Clark County and Inside Out, bid for a federal contract last summer to run a youth job program in Clark County.

Clark County Department of Job and Family Services officials wanted the county commissioners to approve contracts allowing both agencies to share the contract; the project provided jobs last summer to 140 young people ages 16 to 24.

But commissioners balked and voted 2-1 to award the $565,000 contract solely to OIC, which had operated the job program before and scored higher than Inside Out on a rating system used to determine the best bidder.

The county then launched an independent investigation into the contract last summer, a review that cost about $16,000. During the investigation, DJFS Director Bob Suver retired and the agency’s assistant director took another job.

Documents from the investigation obtained by the Springfield News-Sun include previously unreleased details on criminal allegations at Inside Out.

The contract investigation remains incomplete nearly 10 months later, Clark County Administrator Nathan Kennedy said.

“There are holes in it in the fact that one of the key people retired before we had the opportunity to question him,” Kennedy said. “Once a person has left, it doesn’t make sense for the employer to (continue an investigation).”

Investigation launched

OIC is a nonprofit agency that aims to eliminate poverty and unemployment, including with job training and utility assistance programs. Inside Out is a faith-based youth program that runs youth homes, after-school programs and one of the largest child cares in Clark County.

The investigation was launched after questions were raised about how the contracts were handled, Kennedy said, and after continued efforts by DJFS officials to allow the children to work with Inside Out.

Kennedy also acknowledged there were concerns about two reports of child abuse related to William Stout, president of Inside Out.

“I had concerns. I was very concerned. A large portion of those youth were minors,” Kennedy said. “But what really caused concern was that OIC had beat Inside Out by several points and there was still a strong push (by DJFS officials) to split the contract.”

Stout was arrested and charged with felony battery in Wayne County, Ind., in 2003 after he allegedly held a boy in a headlock at a mall in Richmond, Ind., according to a Richmond Police Department report. Multiple witnesses reported that Stout was aggressive with the child, whom he had legal custody of, according to the police report.

The charge was dropped after the victim didn’t pursue the case and the boy was returned to Stout, according to documents from the Wayne County Superior Court No. 3.

The second allegation, records show, stated that Stout was a suspect in a 2009 investigation when Clark County Children Services reported that he had been accused of inappropriate contact with a 12-year-old boy, according to Clark County Sheriff’s Office report.

The 2009 investigation was closed without charges after the victim’s mother refused to cooperate with authorities, according to a sheriff’s report.

Stout said in an interview with the Springfield News-Sun he wasn’t aware that county leaders had concerns, wished that someone would have talked to him and contacted him as part of any investigation.

He said nothing inappropriate happened with the child in 2009 and he was never interviewed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office or DJFS officials about the alleged incident. The accusations are fabricated, Stout said, and the child was never at his home. The group home Stout worked at then had 24-hour awake staffing and video monitoring.

The allegation is retaliation as part of an unrelated lawsuit, Stout said.

The incident at the mall in 2003 occurred when the 15-year-old boy became out of control. Race may have played a factor in the police involvement, Stout said, because he is white and the child is black.

“He became aggressive and took a swing at me. I restrained him and witnesses called the police,” Stout said.

Stout and Suver acknowledge that the incident was investigated by Clark County Child Protective Services.

The incident was initially substantiated by a Clark County case worker as child abuse, Suver said, but after Stout appealed, the issue was found to be unsubstantiated.

DJFS requires anyone in contact with youth to undergo background checks by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Stout has no criminal convictions and has passed background checks, Suver said.

“These (reports) were years ago and they were investigated by law enforcement and Child Protective Services. You can’t let rumor and innuendo direct your decision,” Suver said.

Inside Out currently has no contracts with Clark County.

When allegations of abuse surface with an organization seeking a contract with the county, those incidences are considered on a case-by-case basis and are brought before county administration, human resources and the board of commissioners, said current DJFS Director David Dombroksy, who replaced Suver.

Kennedy said Suver and other staff members didn’t take those steps in the case of the allegations against Stout.

Split vote

County Commissioners John Detrick, Rick Lohnes and David Hartley said they were aware of the reports about Stout. However, they added that the accusations played no role in their decision-making.

Detrick and Hartley both voted last summer to award the contract solely to OIC.

“I followed the recommendation of the administration. I heard (about the reports of abuse), but my decision was based on Nathan’s recommendation … When you have a good administrator you have to trust him,” Detrick said.

Hartley said he voted to award the contract to OIC because Inside Out didn’t qualify to get the funds based on the request for proposal, or RFP, in which OIC scored 70 out of 80 points, while Inside Out scored 64.

“All the stories didn’t play a role in my final decision because nothing had been proven. No. 1, they didn’t qualify under the RFP,” Hartley said.

Lohnes wanted the board to draft a new request for proposal and allow the groups to vie for the contract again. The county’s request was confusing, Lohnes said, and didn’t clearly specify whether one organization or two could be awarded the contract.

He said he had heard about the allegations against Stout. But he said during the vote, he only considered the facts.

“We had black-and-white issues that we needed to stick to … You can’t make any judgment calls without all the data and on something that was dismissed, and that was one reason I voted no,” Lohnes said. “There was nothing solid to go on. When people tried to give me what they thought was the story, I stuck to the facts. I voted to redo the contract.”

Liability concerns

Before the county commissioners vote, the participants had started working with both organizations’ summer youth programs without a contract, Kennedy said. That’s a violation of the state civil code, he said, and puts the county at risk for lawsuits.

Department of Job and Family Services staff members, including Suver, had been warned previously about giving out work before contracts had been approved, Kennedy said.

The county has to consider liability, Kennedy and Detrick said, when organizations they contract with are dealing with children.

“I have to weigh these issues, especially when we’re dealing with kids and liability. That’s my job,” Kennedy said.

The county commissioners launched an independent investigation into the issue after Suver continued to push for the young adults to continue to work with Stout. Suver continued to argue to work with both programs because he said he liked the diversity they offered — OIC focused mostly on manual labor while Inside Out worked on job skills.

Suver was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the investigation into “acts of insubordination,” according to a memo from Kennedy last summer.

Kerry Pedraza, the DJFS assistant director, resigned in September after being named the new director of the United Way for Clark, Champaign and Madison counties. She started the job on Oct. 1.

The county so far spent more than $16,000 for the investigation. The money has gone to paying for an independent law firm to conduct the investigation, including interviewing employees and gathering documents. The law firm charged $700 an hour.

The Clark County Department of Job & Family Services has more than 200 employees and an annual budget of $36 million.

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