Ulman: Howard Co. Domestic Violence Center head likely out

Howard nonprofit criticized in report

March 22, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

The Howard County Domestic Violence Center will likely replace its embattled executive director, County Executive Ken Ulman said Tuesday, after the troubled nonprofit's board resigned and was replaced by a group selected by his administration.

Annie Burton-Byrd, the group's third director and CEO in less than a year, is probably out, Ulman said. She was hired Jan. 28 but ran into trouble a few weeks later when it came to light that she was on a federal list of persons barred from handling federal funds. Her hiring also came two weeks before a scathing report on the Columbia-based organization described it as seriously troubled and in danger of collapse.

"The citizens of Howard County have a great history of supporting this organization through tax dollars and personal contributions, and I'll continue to be a contributor," Ulman said. "We're going to use this as an opportunity to make this better,"

The 33-year-old 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 she was hoping to stay. "I feel I've done a lot for this organization in a short period of time. I've been cooperative," she said, adding that she turned down two other job offers for the Howard position.

Ulman praised the departing board for ordering the 39-page assessment done by Maryland Nonprofits and said he wants every nonprofit in the county to get a similar periodic assessment, but he was frustrated for two months, he said, by the group's refusal to allow him to read it. He was sent a copy anonymously within the past week, he said, after he criticized a lack of cooperation. He and state officials froze federal funds that they had directed to the organization. and he ordered a county audit.

Bernie Bradley, the former board chairwoman, said she is relieved to be out of the situation, but said the former board members were trying to do the right thing. They would not share the report, she said, because it was supposed to be internal and had been seen only by board members.

"That report is a reflection of things that happened over a period of years," she said, and it would take time to make corrections.

A copy of the report supplied by Ulman said the nonprofit "is in a state of serious decline that could threaten the organization's viability."

The study was done between October, 2010 and January 13 by a Maryland Nonprofits consulting team, which interviewed staff and board members and pored over records. Maryland Nonprofits is a statewide umbrella group with 1,700 member organizations that offers consulting services to member groups. It has offices both in Baltimore and Silver Spring.

The report said the center, which assumed responsibility for victims in Howard after another nonprofit closed, was suffering from poor leadership and a "micro-managing," inexperienced governing board. The report also cited high staff turnover, low morale and a tense, unhappy atmosphere among the roughly 30 workers who are passionate about their mission, but poorly organized.

About one quarter of the staff had left in a six-month period and employees felt isolated and "unheard" by the organization's leaders, the report said.

Things seemed to come to head shortly after Burton-Byrd was hired, though she came with glowing recommendations from prominent officials at Harvard University, including Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. She worked there as assistant director of finance and operations for the Department of African and African American Studies and the Du Bois Institute for six years until 2004, when she and her family moved to Maryland.

Burton-Byrd is on a federal list of people barred from participating in federal programs for one year until July 22, according to Sandy Scott, a spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Services. Burton-Byrd was accused of using five AmeriCorps volunteers in 2005 to do work for a private real estate firm run by her and her now-estranged husband, Kevin E. Byrd.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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