Reader opinion by Ed Uehling:
AFAN – Lack of oversight permitted monster to hatch, grow into what it is today environment of corruption, backstabbing, cowardice and deception carried to new heights, Dear Editor: The Community owes a massive debt of gratitude to you, Bill, for having the courage and fortitude to tread where no one else has dared, as witnessed by your series on AFAN. That organization’s tentacles are not conﬁned to denying government-ﬁnanced services to clients who voice their opinion or to the irregularities tolerated and fomented by governmental agencies ﬁnancing AFAN or to the Board which has had intertwining ﬁnancial interests or even to the court system where AFAN is using questionable tactics to stave dismissal of its lawsuit against Lane Olson. Employees of the organization have even stooped to the level of intimidating the tiny Sin Sity Sisters and at least one has bragged about having been able to stop stories in the press. However, it is my opinion that blaming all current abuses and misfeasance upon the current Executive Director, Jennifer Morss is inappropriate. She walked into an environment of corruption, backstabbing, cowardice, and deception and, while she may have carried these attributes to new heights, it is really the malfeasance of past Board of Directors and the lack of outside oversight (including my own neglect) that permitted the monster to hatch and then grow into what it is today: an organization so in love with itself that
it has actually cut services to clients at the very time it has received hundreds of thousands of additional grant dollars. AFAN is now an organization that appears more likely to use its private donations to pay for lawsuits, employees to act as attack dogs against its critics, and PR professionals to collect accolades and awards for its director, than to use this private money for the services donors believe they are supporting. When asked by Warren Tong, writer of the story “HIV/AIDS Organization Spotlight: AFAN” in “The Body”, “What is the biggest challenge AFAN faces?”, Ms. Morss answered, “Challenging economic times for fundraising and increasing our client base”. Then Ms. Morss, reveals her real motivations in her answer to Mr. Tong’s next question: “Any difﬁculties doing HIV work speciﬁc to being in Nevada?” to which she answered “No. Actually, Nevada has been very supportive of the organization for more than 27 years. We are honored by the continued generosity of our fellow Nevadans.” In other words, AFAN’s “HIV work” consists of rounding up lots of money for AFAN and for the salary and gloriﬁcation of Ms Morss. I am really not interested in “honoring” AFAN. (I suspect most other donors feel that way also.) We are paying someone to serve clients. Apparently, however, for AFAN, the “HIV work” of meeting the unique needs of clients is secondary, at best. This de-emphasis of
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services is reﬂected in the nightmarish red tape that clients (at least the clients of AFAN without “favored” status) have to hack through just to get a bus pass or food voucher carries a clear message: “we are trying to avoid spending any of OUR money on your needs”. Although Ms Morse blames “new government regulations” for the decrease in services, the relevant government agencies maintain that AFAN’s procedures are exaggerated. When asked why its $600,000 slush fund gained through the Walk and Black and White Party can’t be tapped, she says AFAN “can’t afford it” and justiﬁes her answer by pointing out past abuses of vouchers. But who abuses vouchers (grants and donations)? AFAN claims 91% service (only 9% overhead) to clients, but its own 2009-10 IRS ﬁling shows $114,000 in government grants received for the food program, but only $29,000 given in vouchers; that’s 25%, a far cry from 91%. How does AFAN manage to spend $77,000 ($177,000 in 2008-9, more than the gross proceeds!!) of its own money for a Black and White Party lavished with corporate donations, including the venue? It is not enough for AFAN to sweep these and many other questions about its ﬁnances under the rug and deny access to its ﬁnancial records. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. There can be no question that change is needed. But the organization has evolved in this manner, not because Jennifer Morss or anyone else is a bad person, but because people remained silent in a long-term environment of abuse, corruption, etc. AFAN will only change if and when more people speak out just as you have, Bill. Thank you for being the ﬁrst to point out the iceberg. Soon, if the rest of the Community speaks out, all of the eligible people may get the services donors and grantors intend for them. Ed Uehling
No serious answers from AFAN regarding cash handling policy – Who will you give your money to? order to get thus intimidating clients and preventing Night Beat sent an email to Aid more funding. them from expressing their opinions For AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) Board Care to comment? if those opinions are contrary to Ms President Patricia Saavedra with a AFAN: An Morss’ liking. number of questions about the operation employee no longer I repeat: Why did AFAN try to of this HIV/AIDS organization on July employed by the restrict clients’ free speech rights with 19. An answer was received from AFAN organization was terminated the Zero Tolerance Policy? Executive Director Jennifer Morss –•– in September 2009 for creating (email@example.com) on July 21, stating: NB: The AFAN 990 for FYE 2010, one (1) fraudulent client to engage “While Ms. Saavedra is traveling, she’s Schedule G, page 2 seemed to indicate in theft from the organization, as asked me to forward you the following charitable contributions in the amount it’s employer. This employee has response to your questions” of $348,219 can you tell me about this? plead guilty to theft and is awaiting Most of the answers are non-answers Is this donations to other 501(c)3s? prosecution. Under the guidance of or just plain stonewalling. A follow up Who are these donations made to and our CPA ﬁrm and grantors, AFAN has email was sent, asking more pointed why? implemented the appropriate procedures comments/questions, but no answer was to ensure this activity does not received by deadline (7 p.m. on occur again. Additionally, after Wednesday, July 27). an extended audit completed by Night Beat questions an external, large, international, are in blue, while answers CPA ﬁrm we are certain the attributed to Saavedra are in These are questions which you situation was contained to the one black. Unanswered Night Beat (1) client. comments/questions from the should be happy to answer with –•– follow-up email sent to Morss NB: Tell me about your are printed in red. specifics, since your reputation –•– cash handling procedures at events like the Black & White NB: You said Jennifer sent could be damaged if the Party, and the AIDS Walk. my email request for information AFAN: Unfortunately, we are about your Zero Tolerance Policy questions are avoided. unable to share these details with to your lawyer, but Jennifer said you to protect the security of the she never received it. Can you AFAN: Here is the excerpt from the ﬁnancial processes of our event. explain? IRS instructions from Schedule G: NB follow-up: You’re stonewalling. AFAN: We have received several Line 2. Enter the total amount I’m not asking for speciﬁcs emails from the group associated with of contributions, gifts, and similar regarding where or when it’s counted, Lane Olson, with whom we are in open amounts (including the total value of I’m interested in who is allowed to litigation, I believed your email was noncash contributions) received by count? Are there observers? Is there a one of the emails sent to our attorney. the organization for events in columns prohibition of family members counting However, in speaking with Ms. Morss, I (a) and (b) during the tax year. Enter cash? Do people who work closely understand that this email from you was in column (c) the total amount of together also count cash together? not received in-house. contributions, gifts, and similar amounts Does AFAN have professional oversight NB follow-up: Could you clarify received by the organization from all of this accounting function? “in-house” and why Ms Morss other fundraising events with gross Does AFAN have formal policies? claimed she had not received it, while receipts greater than $5,000 during the Please reveal those policies. Ms Saavedra wrote that Morss had tax year. Enter the sum of columns (a), AFAN collected some $639,398 forwarded it? –•– (b), and (c) in column (d). at events over the course of ﬁscal Here is the website link to the year 2009-2010, and I feel the NB: Why did AFAN try to restrict instructions: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irscommunity should not be brushed off free speech with the Zero Tolerance pdf/i990sg.pdf with the above answer. Policy (in the now-deleted section “H” This is a contribution received, not These are questions which you -- slander/libel)? an expense. should be happy to answer with AFAN: See attached release letter. –•– speciﬁcs, since your reputation could be NB follow-up: That doesn’t explain NB: There are rumors of damaged if the questions are avoided. the reason for re-deﬁning “slander” and –•– “phantom clients” at AFAN – clients “libel”. These words have speciﬁc legal who don’t exist or are not qualiﬁed to Does Jennifer investigate formal meanings but this policy re-deﬁned their receive assistance – on the books in Continued on next page meaning as anything AFAN doesn’t like,
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AFAN Code of Conduct poorly written but less egregious, unfair than previous Zero Tolerance Policy Below is reproduced the pertinent parts of AFAN’s Facebook notice of the change in the Zero Tolerance Policy. Without explanation, the posting was dated by AFAN as May 31. The Facebook post was time-stamped July 5. Curiously, all credit for suggesting the change was given to a mid-level AFAN paid staffer who blindly supports everything AFAN does, when Night Beat had exposed this egregious, intimidating, unfair policy in the May issue. While this new policy is still poorly
written and confusive, it would seem to be a little better than the previous policy in that it does not purport to penalize clients for their free speech rights. Community Release Aid for AIDS of Nevada has recently completed an annual review of our existing policies. In reviewing the existing “Zero Tolerance Policy” with staff we received and listened to recommendations. We have therefore made adjustments based on the current climate and needs of the community we serve. Below is the updated policy:
Code of Conduct Policy AFAN strives to deliver quality
Who will you give your money to? Continued from previous page client complaints? Who investigates complaints against Jennifer? When a client complains about Jennifer, are they referred to another person or board which investigates her? Does the complaining party receive an acknowledgment that the complaint has been received? Do they receive an acknowledgment that the complaint has been resolved? Are they informed of actions taken to resolve the issue? The Board consults with Jennifer in relations to client grievances ﬁled against her.
Who receives any complaints against her? Is this someone who reports to her? Bottom line: does Jennifer ﬁlter any complaints before the Board sees them? –•– Nevada State Senator David Parks’ name is still at the top of your website’s list of Trustees (as of July 19), when Parks is no longer on your Board. Is there a reason? Isn’t this a little deceptive? We are unable to comment, at this time. The Board is in ongoing discussions with Senator Parks. I repeat, Isn’t this deceptive?
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services to all its eligible clients and offers a comfortable/safe environment in which to obtain services. We do, however, reserve the right to suspend, alter or terminate a client’s services/privileges for any of the following: Threats and/or incidences of assault, theft or abusive behavior towards our staff, volunteers and/or clients. Possession, selling, distribution of any elicit controlled substance, prescription medication and or alcohol. Theft or selling of food vouchers, bus passes, nutritional supplements, prevention materials or other AFAN distributed materials/property. Providing falsiﬁed or fraudulent information in order to obtain services. Physical or verbal threats against other clients, volunteers, or staff on AFAN premises, supporter premises, property, events having to do with AFAN. Possession of weapons on AFAN property, or AFAN hosted events, used to intimidate or physically threaten clients, volunteers, or staff. Weapons are deﬁned as any object which could be used in a manner to threaten bodily harm. Sexual harassment/misconduct towards AFAN staff, volunteers, and/or clients. h. Vandalism of AFAN property or the property/venue of any AFAN hosted event. Any clients, staff, volunteers, or visitors who encounter and/or witness the above incidences of misconduct must complete an AFAN incidence report (available in the AFAN main ofﬁce). Once the incidence report is completed, it will be processed by the departmental supervisor and reviewed by the Executive Director to determine appropriate punitive actions. An alternate means of providing services is available via services by mail for clients who threatened the safe environment of the AFAN ofﬁce for our staff or other clients accessing services. The major difference in this policy is the removal of the incidence in regards to slander and libel communication. This policy has been in place since 2004 and AFAN’s executive staff and Board felt it was time to update it appropriately.
Dr. Cade has been involved with HIV/AIDS for many years in Las Vegas. Cade is an HIV Specialist; former AFAN Executive Director (1989-91); Executive Director and Principle Investigator, Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society (NARES); former member, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA, under President Clinton, 1994-98)
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Who investigates complaints against the Executive Director and staff? Replies to client, Night Beat are brief and vague The Night Beat has asked AFAN Board President Patricia Saavedra to discuss who in the organization handles client complaints, especially those against Executive Director Jennifer Morss. It appears Morss consults with the Board of Trustees. Still unanswered are the questions: Does the complaining party receive an acknowledgment that the complaint has been received? Do they receive an acknowledgment that the complaint has been resolved? Are they informed of
actions taken to resolve the issue? And: Who receives any complaints against Morss? Is this someone who reports to her? Bottom line: does Jennifer ﬁlter any complaints before the Board sees them? AFAN appears reluctant to divulge any information about their policies. If employees who answer to Morss are the only ones to see the complaints, they could easily be ﬁltered prior to reaching the Board. The executive director would certainly have a vested interest in spinning complaints against staff or the executive director when submitting them to the Board, if they are shared with the Board at all. AFAN client Jeffrey Hames
AFAN owes the community transparency, complete answers before we donate any more money
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submitted two complaints about egregious actions by Morss and a midlevel staffer. The reply is on page 21. Hames says, “Jennifer Morss’ response in the letter was brief and vague at best as to what, if anything, had been done to investigate my claims.” “I don’t need to know the employment of the staff. If you’re telling me there was an “investigation” into my claims I want to know what came about from this as well as an explanation as to what is being done to prevent this from happening again.” The reply from Morss raises the questions: Did Morss discipline herself? Did Morss submit the grievance regarding herself to the Board of Trustees? Did Morss protect herself and her staff member by hiding these complaints from her employer? Is the Board aware of any discontent? Or is it just turning a blind eye to complaints?
(Left) Morss assures Hames that â€˜we have taken appropriate actionâ€™ after she reviewed and investigated herself and her staff. Hames still has questions.
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