Shelter Generates Controversy

But One Former Opponent Changes His Views After Meeting With Director

January 26, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

If you asked Edgewood resident B. Daniel Riley about the Forward Step shelter, he'd say the county government should launch an investigation into its use of government grant money.

But ask Edgewood resident Samuel Gibson III, a one-time opponent of the shelter, and he says it's time for the community to bury the hatchet on the issue.

Gibson says he "decided to forgive and forget" after meeting withRev. J. William McNally, Forward Step's executive director, two weeks ago.

"I just wanted to be sure the money's going where it's supposed to be going," said Gibson. "But after speaking with him, I don'tthink he's out to make a million. Maybe he made some mistakes. I know I have.

"But I don't want to be part of anything that keeps someone from a home for the night. The other issue is the veterans. How do you walk over there and tell 11 to 15 veterans 'Bye, it's been nice' when they fought for everything we have?"

Riley has been leadinga group of about a dozen Edgewood residents who are pressuring the county government to answer questions about the shelter's finances.

Riley says he doesn't understand Gibson's "complete change of heart"and isn't swayed by his new viewpoint.

"I'm standing firm in my position," said Riley, who wrote to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann Jan. 6 calling for the investigation. "We heard the questions aboutthe audits; let's clear the air about everything. If Rev. McNally made a mistake and he wasn't trying to profit himself, that's fine."

Robert N. Hockaday, director of community relations, said Rehrmann has asked Emory Plitt, the county attorney, for comment on Riley's letter. But neither Plitt nor Rehrmann has made a decision about whetherto pursue the matter.

Controversy has stirred about the shelter'sfinances since federal, state and county grants were cut off in 1989by county government. Payments were stopped after James M. Jewell, the Harford County treasurer, expressed concern about accounting procedures the shelter used.

He said audits showed money donated to theshelter and spent by the shelter was not adequately accounted for inrecords. Jewell also said he was concerned over a possible conflict of interest because McNally is part of a partnership that has an option to buy the Forward Step shelter.

Gibson first clashed with McNally in the late 1980s when McNally proposed building low-income apartments on the street where Gibson lives, Nuttal Avenue. The street runs behind the shelter, located on old Edgewood Road.

Since then, Gibson and Riley both have questioned the shelter's finances and have been part of a group of Edgewood residents who have opposed Forward Step's acceptance of male boarders, instead of homeless and abused women.

McNally began accepting male boarders sent to the shelter by the Perry Point Veterans Administration Hospital in 1990 after the state and county grants were cut off. The hospital pays for the boarders'housing.

The presence of male boarders, however, violated the shelter's zoning variance. Forward Step's request to change that variance to allow men at the shelter now is being appealed to the Harford Circuit Court.

Gibson, who was listed as a chief opponent in the zoning case, said last week he had "given my word to withdraw my opposition" to McNally.

Gibson said he decided to talk to McNally two weeks ago after he read in the Harford County Sun that McNally wants to build transitional low-income houses and a boarding house on the shelter's Nuttal Avenue property to help formerly homeless people. McNally is seeking financial support from the county.

"When I read it, Iwas kind of aggravated, I thought 'Here we go again,'" said Gibson. "But I did some soul searching, my wife and I talked for hours, and Italked to my neighbors and I decided to meet with him. It was the first time we had ever talked at length."

Gibson said he told McNally that he and other Nuttal Avenue residents have been upset for yearsbecause they learn of McNally's plans either in the newspaper or through the community grapevine.

Riley, however, said he wants to seethe shelter used for its original purpose of sheltering abused womenand to have the accounting questions cleared up.

"I could supportForward Step if it went back to its original purpose," said Riley. "But the fact is that we're still sending women who need help outside the county to get that help."

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