Head Start issues simmer

MONCKS CORNER — The chairwoman of the local Head Start Policy Council criticized the board of directors Wednesday for shutting out parents and the community while allowing the recently resigned director to obstruct the program's potential.

Val Patrick, chairwoman of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Counties Head Start and Early Start Policy Council that is composed of parents and community members, said nothing has changed since Patsy Gardner resigned Monday.

She said the Berkeley-Dorchester Counties Economic Development Corp., which runs the Head Start Program, continues to keep the Policy Council out of the loop, even though the two groups are supposed to share program governance.

"There is no shared governance," Patrick said. "The board is acting the way it wants — without the Policy Council's input — and it's been that way for some time."

Patrick said the economic development board has yet to tell her why Gardner resigned, and why it chose Betty B. Harrison as Gardner's interim replacement without the Policy Council's input. She said she found out about Harrison's appointment from the newspaper.

Gardner took over as executive director in 2005 as federal investigators looked into the possible mismanagement of about $10.5 million over a five-year period. Her resignation comes as federal and state officials are examining the possibility of misused funds.

Patrick said Head Start continues to serve about 1,700 children and their families, despite the economic development corporation's "ill management."

Patrick blamed the economic development board for allowing Gardner to obstruct the program's mission by not performing its fiduciary responsibilities. The two agencies were involved in a rift earlier this year when the council said the board refused to share information about its spending. The problem was solved after the council initially refused to sign off on the $12 million budget.

"The executive board refused to compel Ms. Gardner to provide current, complete and accurate financial reports," Patrick wrote in a statement.

Patrick criticized Harrison's appointment, and the lack of communication with the council, as "history starting to repeat itself."

Harrison, she said, was demoted as Head Start director in 2000 because of deficiencies in the program. She said Harrison was the purchasing/quality specialist when the U.S. Department of Health ad Human Services temporarily terminated its contract with the economic development corporation in 2005 because of deficiencies.

Patrick said Harrison was Gardner's adviser in Head Start matters up until Gardner's resignation.

Harrison did not return a call to her office Wednesday. She said Tuesday that she did not have the authority to discuss her background or her appointment with reporters.

Chairman Levy Berry and attorney Robert Sasser also did not return calls Wednesday.

Berry on Tuesday declined to release Gardner's resignation letter on advice of counsel. The newspaper has filed a request for the document under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.