Howard domestic violence center board to step down

Moves follow criticism from county executive

March 21, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

The entire governing board of Howard County's Domestic Violence Center is resigning to make way for a new, county government-selected group of volunteers after several weeks of turmoil, its president said late Monday

Bernie Bradley, the board president, said all but six board members resigned Friday, and she and the remaining five others plan to step down as soon as Tuesday if county officials can find enough volunteers to replace them. Organization and county officials said victims of domestic violence will not be affected.

The agency has come under criticism from Howard County Executive Ken Ulman over the past week. He said the nonprofit has been withholding information about its operations, an issue that came to a head after allegations surfaced that Annie Burton-Byrd, the group's executive director since Jan. 28, was hired without proper background checks and is on a federal list of persons barred from handling federal funds.

"We'll have a new board in place" Tuesday, Ulman said. "We will not miss a beat with services."

The private nonprofit group receives public funding and according to its website is the county's only provider of domestic violence and sexual assault services.

Burton-Byrd said the trouble is the result of allegations stemming from a divorce she is seeking from her husband of nearly 20 years, Kevin Edward Byrd. He was not immediately available to comment, and she denies any wrongdoing..

In an article published in USA Today in February, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps accused Burton-Byrd of using federally paid volunteers in Baltimore to do work for her private real estate management company several years ago. No criminal charges resulted. Burton-Byrd said Monday she did not know her name had been placed on the federal debarment list and is seeking to reverse the listing.

Bradley said she almost resigned Friday after three years on the board, but decided to stay on temporarily.

"We're trying to do what we can to transition responsibly," she said. "We want to do the right thing for the agency and the victims."

Ulman said forming a new board is an important step in reforming the center.

"I have rarely been this disappointed and upset, and frankly a little emotional about an issue," Ulman said. "My resolve is stronger now than it has ever been to turn this organization around."

Ulman told the Columbia Flier last week that he has ordered an audit of the nonprofit and that he is "very disappointed" with the agency's actions. Both the county and state governments have frozen federal funds for the agency, and Ulman had said the board was not cooperating with county officials.

Bradley denied that, saying she and the board provided the county with information requested except for an internal organizational assessment that had not been shared with the agency staff. Bradley said the board hired Burton-Byrd, who had glowing recommendations and a stellar reputation as far as the board could tell, after a two-week vetting period. She was under consideration for a deputy director's position when the previous director resigned, so she got the top job.

Burton-Byrd said she has no criticism of Ulman.

"He's protecting his people. I have nothing to hide," she said.

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