Concha Weels, a Shawnee resident, relies upon the Central Oklahoma Community Transit System (COTS) for rides everywhere she goes, because Weels doesn’t drive.
She never learned to drive, and relies on this organization to get her to the grocery store, any doctors appointments, and anywhere else she might need to go.
Weels’ only mode of transportation may be in jeopardy if the contract between the Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency (COCAA), which runs the COTS program, and the city of Shawnee is not renewed.
The city pays about $56,000 each year to COCAA to provide transportation around the Shawnee area for residents with no transportation, like Weels, to be able to work, go to the grocery store, and attend medical appointments.
This contract was up for review before the Shawnee Contract Review Committee.
This committee makes recommendations which are then passed to the full city commission.
The city commission makes the final vote, but their vote does not have to follow the recommendation.
After hearing from COCAA Director Rebecca Stone, the committee voted to recommend the city commission earmark the funds in the budget, but not actually fund the organization until the review committee’s recommendation changes.
Under this recommendation, once COCAA gets certain things in order, including their audits, their contract would return to the review committee for further consideration and another possible recommendation.
The committee was hesitant to approve the contract because of issues within their financials, including the fact that their 2012 audit is not yet finished. Additionally their monthly financials are more than two months behind.
Stone said in the meeting that there have been staffing issues within the organization, including not being able to find and keep a finance director.
“It seems that with the low salary we have, we get people who want the title,” Stone said. “But we need a working person.”
When asked, Stone went on to say that her board of directors was reluctant to outsource their accounting to a firm because when that had been done in the past, the results were “disastrous.”
“Between not being able to find a qualified person who will accept the salary, and past experiences with outsourcing,” the board isn’t sure what to do, Stone said.
Page 2 of 2 - To make matters worse, Stone also told the review committee that an embezzlement had been discovered in 2012.
A former payroll specialist, whom Stone did not name, had been using previous employees information to embezzle money into a personal account, Stone said.
When asked, Stone said the employee was able to steal about $30,000.
She said the matter had been taken to the District Attorney’s office and the employee pled guilty to the charges and was no longer with COCAA.
Stone said the issue was discovered internally, and she said she is confident that they found all incidents of the embezzlement.
With all these issues, Stone said COCAA is having trouble receiving grants and funding from the state and federal levels, but that she is working to fix these problems.
The review committee plans to send Stone a full list of questions they have regarding the financials and audits before she has to return for another round of review.
Without the funding from the city of Shawnee, Stone said she isn’t sure how the COTS transit system would be affected.
“We do rely on the City’s funding to be able to provide low cost, high quality, and consistent transit service to the citizens of Shawnee,” Stone said in an email. “Considering the cost of fuel and the limited income of many citizens, our transit service is essential. We try to keep the cost as low as possible to citizens and the City’s funding helps us do that.”
Stone added that COCAA would work to continue providing transit to those who need it.
“Without the funding, rates might have to be increased or availability might be more limited, but we will still work to provide the necessary transit service to the community,” she said.
As for Weels, she said she isn’t sure what she would do if this transportation was no longer available.
“I have no idea,” she said. “But for now, I’ll just continue to use this service.”