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Editorial: Do the CAO audit

Things sure are confusing at Buffalo’s Community Action Organization. There is a way to begin straightening it out: Do the independent forensic audit.

That’s the audit that CAO’s leader, L. Nathan Hare, said was never begun or that if it was begun, then it wasn’t legal. In at least one instance Hare was declarative: “No outside audit was started,” he stated in a letter to his staff in response to stories in The Buffalo News.

Oops.

A contract and emails obtained by The News show that Chiampou Travis Besaw and Kershner – or CTBK – began an “engagement” in early December. A week later, it requested records. Its work was halted in early January after a purge at CAO, whose board president, treasurer and four other directors were mysteriously and summarily dismissed. At least four of those directors had previously attempted to fire Hare for failure to provide the detailed financial data they sought.

So, what does Hare say now about the audit whose existence he denied? Now he knows it existed, he says, but that it was illegal. He also says that such an audit was unnecessary, since the agency’s accounting firm already does that work, and also claims that its cost could have topped $100,000 even though the company put in writing that it would have run no more than $10,000.

The forensic audit was to have looked into how CAO was spending money for Head Start programs, which the organization manages here. Jennifer Shank, the dismissed treasurer, said the board’s concerns included the possibility that grant money meant for Head Start and Early Head Start was being used for other CAO needs. Hare, in an email to The News this week, said the organization is “confident” that grant funds are being spent appropriately.

Overlaying all of this is the chaotic way the conflict played out in public. The board fired Hare, but he never went away. Instead, CAO attorney Adam W. Perry nullified the action, claiming it was taken without giving appropriate notice. Hare returned to work and the offending board members were dismissed.

Now, the FBI and the state Attorney General’s Office are asking questions.

There is a way to begin untangling this mess. Do the audit. Given Hare’s belief that all is in order with CAO spending on Head Start, he should have no qualms in rehiring CTBK to conduct that deep dive.

Plainly, it will take more than an audit to answer the questions that have arisen at CAO, but given that such a review kicked off the avalanche of trouble there, conducting it in public would count as a good-faith start at demonstrating that nothing is amiss.

Refusing that examination might not qualify as proof of a problem, but it would also do nothing to dispel that clouds that thicken each time Hare tries to explain away what is going on in his organization.

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