Four-County reboots hiring process

Mary Katherine Murphy

September 24, 2013

LAURINBURG — Four-County Community Services will for the second time this year be without an executive director after hearing from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services that the process used to hire Kim Clark was unacceptable.

Clark, who had served as assistant director under former Executive Director Richard Greene, was named Greene’s successor in June. Greene, who had served as head of Four-County for 25 years, was fired in March following a state Department of Health and Human Services audit alleging that he and other employees had misused federal and state money totaling $75,000 in 2012.

The organization, which is based in Laurinburg, serves Robeson, Scotland, Hoke, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus and Pender counties.

Clark was appointed following a vote by the agency’s 40-plus member board of directors, but according to an Aug. 5 letter from the federal department’s regional office in Atlanta, the appointment was not properly approved. According to the letter, the job was advertised using selection criteria that was established in 1997 and had become “outdated.”

“The general requirements for an energetic person, the education requirements for a college degree or equivalent in experience, physical requirements of good handwriting ability, and training requirements of 8 to 10 years of administrative or management experience and a driver’s license do not adequately represent the Head Start skill set,” the letter said.

The letter also stated that the job description was not adequate for Four-County’s Head Start program, which serves 1,000 children and receives $8 million in federal funding annually.

Hiring for positions that are funded at more than 50 percent by Head Start is subject to final approval by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Those positions include the executive director, Head Start director and chief financial officer.

Delilah Blanks, chairman of the Four-County board of directors, said seeking state approval was the responsibility of Jimmy Cummings, who previously served as board chairman.

“We should have hired (Clark) on a conditional basis pending the approval of the regional office in Atlanta,” Blanks said. “It was an oversight on the part of the past board chairman to fail to send that to Atlanta.”

Cummings announced his resignation from the board in July after serving for more than 20 years. At the same meeting, the board approved implementation of term limits for its members.

Clark will serve as interim director while the board restarts the hiring process, names an executive director, and submits that name for the state department’s approval.

“We have to submit a recruitment plan and then we go through that hiring process — advertising it with the appropriate credentials, interviews, then submit to them the process we followed,” Blanks said.

Clark said that she will continue to serve Four-County in any capacity.

“I’m committed to this agency and I’m committed to doing everything I possibly can to be sure that we’re providing quality services to those who need us the most,” Clark said. “That’s my ultimate goal, whether I’m interim director or executive director or whatever I may be.”

Four-County disburses about $21 million in state and federal funds annually in weatherization and housing assistance as well as though its 16 Head Start programs. Head Start is a state program that has a goal of preparing children who are identified as being at risk to enter kindergarten.

Mary Katherine Murphy works for Civitas Media as a staff writer for The Laurinburg Exchange.