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Editorial: A closer look at RJI records

Rowan Jobs Initiative leaders may be darned if they do and darned if they don’t when it comes to releasing all the records in which county commissioners have taken an interest.
But here’s what they have shared so far, in a report given to commissioners Monday ó schedules of cash balances, receipts and disbursements compiled by Sherrill & Smith certified public accountants. RJI formed in late 2003 to launch an aggressive, five-year branding and marketing campaign for Rowan.
Clearly, government has been the biggest backer of this effort. Over its four years of existence, RJI has taken in $674,596 ó including $430,000 from local government, $161,564 in gifts and grants, $76,008 in dues paid by area businesses, and $7,024 in interest. County funds alone amounted to nearly half of RJI’s income, and city funds contributed 16 percent.
Where did the money go? Since volunteers drive RJI, it has no payroll ó a major cost for many nonprofits. But the organization did have office expenses of $8,597. Travel and expenses for promotional purposes totaled $21,897. Details about who traveled where and for what are not included. For the most part, this report sticks to broad categories and numbers.
The accountant’s report breaks down the biggest category, “program services,” into three parts: $291,673 for consultants, $223,243 for advertising and $173 in miscellaneous expenses. That’s 94 percent of the $545,583 in disbursements over the years, and RJI had $129,013 on hand at the end of 2007. Government would call that a fund balance. A nonprofit might consider it a good start going into 2008.
A note at the end of the report attempts to address questions about money spent with onetime board member Mike Miller’s company, Miller Davis, though he is not mentioned by name. Expenses for buying advertising from “a company owned by a certain board member” were zero in 2004, $75 in 2005, $18,734 in 2006 and $78,301 in 2007.
If the RJI board had not used the services of a board member ó even if he didn’t profit, as Miller says ó this controversy never would have arisen and the report would not exist. The fact that Miller ran for the board of commissioners no doubt came to bear, also. Miller didn’t survive the primary, but no matter. There’s a lot of politics behind this debate.
Other nonprofits who receive government funds should take note. Using the services of a board member will look bad if for some reason the government decides to look into your operations.
And a request to officials: If your public board gives money to an organization, stay abreast of its operations and give your support, if you’re going to hand over taxpayers’ money. Former Food Lion CEO Tom Smith was chairman of Rowan Jobs Initiative when its “Available for Work” brand was unveiled in January 2006. “It’s going to take the full commitment of this county to make it work,” Smith said. Commissioners might have spent county money, but they didn’t spend any of their own time on Rowan Jobs Initiative.

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