Healthcare, State Government

Dunbar School Foundation board members tour Stop building, note items missing

MORGANTOWN – Members of the Dunbar School Foundation board toured the former headquarters of the now-defunct DSF Stop program on Wednesday.

DSF President Houston Richardson noted that while the interior is in good condition, several items purchased with public funds were not in the building. The Dominion Post reported last week that it had received information that Stop apparently was removing items from the building without authorization.

Another view of the interior.

DSF Stop was a COVID-19 testing and vaccine program created to serve the Black communities in Marion, Monongalia, Harrison and Taylor counties. It operated on federal grants channeled through the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The first was for $1.2 million, and the second, which expired May 31, was for $990,000.

Richardson toured the building – the former Dunbar High School cafeteria on High Street, Fairmont, just across from the old school – with board member Charlotte Meade. Board member Regina Riley also was on site for a short time but was unable to stay.

Richardson recorded the tour using his cell phone video, and narrated as they went around.

Entering a storage area, he noted that four small freezers used to store vaccine vials at the correct temperature were gone.

Richardson and board member Regina Riley prepare to enter the building.

Also missing, he observed, was a generator kept outside in a wooden enclosure, for responding to power outages, to keep the vaccine freezers working. Nothing should have been removed until proper disposition of the property was resolved

He said during his narration, “It is up to the foundation to consider what actions will be taken.”

The foundation will continue discussing the status of the building and equipment at subsequent meetings.

Before she left, Riley told Richardson that DSF Stop’s former CEO Romelia Hodges has requested a meeting with the board.

The Dominion Post asked DHHR about the proper disposition of property purchased with federal grant money. DHHR said the grant agreements bound DSF Stop to comply with property standards set out in federal code.

This image from Stop’s Facebook account shows the facility set up for an event.

“As part of the closeout and upon completion of the monitoring and review process, assets acquired within the grant will be evaluated and the appropriate disposition of the assets will be completed,” DHHR said. “DHHR utilizes federally established thresholds for asset disposal and retention.”

DHHR said if DSF believes any property was wrongfully taken, it should notify law enforcement. The board has made no decision on that yet.

The Dominion Post also asked DHHR if it had received word that DSF Stop had ceased operating. DHHR said, “The period of performance for the grant between DHHR and the Dunbar School Foundation Inc. has ended. DHHR has not received a formal written notification that the Dunbar School Foundation Inc. has ceased operations. This question should be addressed by the Dunbar School Foundation Inc.”

As the quote shows, the answer did not reference Stop ceasing operation.

During his narration, Richardson again noted his concerns about the operation of Stop. “I feel that the Black community in Fairmont West Virginia, Marion County and all the other counties that were supposed to be served has been shortchanged.”

He made clear that was just his opinion, with no hard evidence as yet.

Meade asked him about the basis for his comment, and Richardson cited issues reported in our series of stories: allegations of excessively high executive salaries, nepotism, and luxury SUVs used to transport personnel and equipment leased at high prices in lieu of more modest vehicles.

Meade regretted that the allegations regarding the Stop program has caused some disruption in the Black community in Marion County.

“If we’re not careful, it’s going to get to be so divided,” she said. Never before has there been a sense of division between the foundation – whose aim is to preserve and promote the historic former school for black students that has served as a community anchor – and the community.

She saw Stop as a program that could serve the community and benefit both school buildings, she said. “Then it ends up in a predicament and you can’t even clear it up because there are too many sides now.”

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