THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Less than a month after being dismissed from the board, the former chair of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte has come under scrutiny for several questionable expenses during his time in leadership. Additionally, the group’s new chair says the center might close following news it will not receive the remainder of funds from a conditional grant offered to them earlier this year.
Former chair Ranzeno Frazier racked up close to $600 in questionable spending from June through October, according to financial statements provided to qnotes by center leaders on Thursday. The center says its board never approved the expenses and say they are missing receipts or other documentation to justify them.
Some of the undocumented expenses include six restaurant purchases ranging from $5.34-$31.79 and two ATM withdrawals in the amounts of $120 and $162.50. Other unapproved expenses include nominal parking fees, two small purchases at a gas station and $184.86 sent to a Paypal user named “jmolo2302.”
Center leaders are stopping short of calling the mishaps a misappropriation.
“This was one in many of his bad decisions on Ranzeno’s part, and although I don’t think it was embezzlement, it was extremely poor judgment on his part especially given he was Chair and knew how dire our financial situation was in,” new center chair Jud Gee, who took over for Frazier last month, said in an email late Thursday afternoon. “I can speak for the board in saying these expenses would NOT have been approved regardless.”
The questionable expenses came during a tough financial period for the center. Money become so tight recently that it decided to vacate its current lease at the end of the year and allowed a local gym, which is currently paying the facility’s full monthly lease, to take over more than half of its current space.
Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, Frazier denied any allegations that he had misappropriated funds or used center money for personal expenses.
“They are not personal expenses,” he said. “Since I’ve stepped down, they did have questions about stuff that was purchased. I gave them receipts for that.”
Frazier added: “It wasn’t like I was using money just to use it. If I purchased something for $20, I would put $50 or $100 back to make sure it was still covered.”
Pressed more specifically on his purchases and whether any of them were personal meals, Frazier again denied wrongdoing.
“I’ve never purchased a meal for me,” he said. “The only time I have purchased things is for homeless people. I have given things to people who have come to the center.”
But in a mid-October email exchange with center treasurer John Dimier, Frazier replied that his last unapproved expense, a $15.88 purchase at Wingstop, was a “last meal as chair lol.” That purchase was made on Oct. 14, the same day Frazier was removed as chair.
Center leaders say they don’t have proper receipts or other justification for a total $594.04 in expenses, of which Frazier has already repaid $262. Additionally, Dimier said Frazier was also expected to deliver the group a $238 payment at a board meeting on Thursday evening and has promised to soon repay close to $100 in remaining expenses.
Gee said the board wasn’t aware of the unapproved expenses when it voted to oust Frazier from his chairmanship last month. At the time, the board said Frazier “was not the right person for the job” and that he didn’t have the experience for the position.
Frazier had issued strong disagreements with the way he was forced out.
The questionable expenses were discovered by Dimier after his appointment as treasurer last month.
Dimier said Thursday the center is also working to finalize its payment of outstanding state and federal payroll taxes leftover from earlier this year. The center has already paid a total of $1,651 owed to the state. Today it mailed out the necessary federal withholding forms to settle $3,222.60 in outstanding 2013 federal payroll withholding and $3,546.82 in 2014 federal withholding. The outstanding taxes were owed on the center’s sole employee, an operations director hired in April 2013 laid off this June.
Center ‘may shutter’ after losing major grant
The center also said on Thursday that it would not be receiving the remainder of its $19,950 grant from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund. In June, the fund — a collective giving program of the Foundation For The Carolinas – gave $3,000 of the grant to the center in the form of conditional support. At the same time, the fund outlined several goals for the center and said it would withhold the remaining monies “until certain financial and governance best practices have been established.”
Gee told qnotes that the center board had made progress toward several of the fund’s goals for the group.
“I believe we met the metrics of the fund, I’d say about 95 percent of it,” Gee said. “We didn’t have enough time to really formulate a game plan for all of our fundraising other than some grants and things of that nature.”
Last Saturday, the center board met during a retreat to finalize its strategic plan and submitted it to the fund. The plan, along with a growth in board members and other goals, were to have been met by Saturday.
Gee said Jeremiah Nelson, chair of the fund’s board, informed him of their decision on Thursday.
“We are meeting as a board tonight to discuss our future, if there is any,” Gee said. “I’m ready to get back to my life, so I probably will step down, though that’s not imminent. A lot of progress has been made by a really good team of people. Things were really starting to work smoothly.”
Gee added: “We had high hopes that the fund would give us the grant, but that didn’t occur. I have a feeling the center may shutter.”
Fund vice chair Steve Bentley confirmed Thursday afternoon that his group had voted not to release the center’s remaining funds. The $16,650 will be rolled back into the group’s 2015 grant-making pool. The decision was made at the fund’s regularly scheduled meeting this Tuesday.
“This has been a heartwrenching situation for us,” Bentley said. “Everybody wants a center to succeed and nothing would have made us happier than having the confidence that it could succeed.”
Bentley said the fund will be issuing a more detailed communication about their decision to stakeholders and donors sometime Thursday evening or Friday morning.
The latest disagreements over Frazier’s October ouster and his questionable expenses come after nearly a year of scrutiny for the local LGBT organization, which has experienced intense questions over past financial mismanagement, transparency and leadership accountability — including its near closure earlier this year and several high-profile resignations from the board.