EXCLUSIVE: Former Tri-CAP exec goes on record

PhilipB-Gphoto10_08_001While attending the annual Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon sponsored by the North Shore Black Women’s Association, Neighborhood View spoke candidly with Phillip Bronder-Giroux former executive director of Tri-City Community Action Program, Inc (Tri-CAP) and asked if he would be willing to go on record as only he could concerning his Tri-CAP departure and the agency’s possible closing.

Fortunately, Bronder-Giroux agreed to an interview which in our opinion should silence the many whispered rumors that have been circulating throughout the Metro-North area.

Tri-CAP is an anti-poverty agency for Malden, Medford, Everett and surrounding towns. They have been providing services to the area for 36 years.

When asked what happened, Bronder-Giroux said the agency overspent their budget by approximately $500,000 and that the agency was “probably too lean at the top.” It wasn’t fraud by the executive director or anyone else in the agency as some have alluded. They have been functioning in the red for a number of reasons, namely:
  • Tri-CAP employed a very capable comptroller who had been with the agency for more than 20 years. About five years ago the comptroller became seriously ill and was in and out of hospital for various treatments and surgeries.  During this period the financial reports were gravely inadequate.
  • The agency’s financial software was not sufficiently updated.
  • It was not the best practice to have only one person controlling the agency’s finances.
  • The agency was subsidizing their Head Start Program since 2011 after having lost approximately $600,000 of funding for this program.
  • The demands of the Homeless Outreach Programs were growing at a rate that far exceeded the programs’ financial support.
tricapBronder-Giroux made it clear that “you can’t fix what you don’t know,” however, once they (management and board) knew the magnitude of the problem, they considered various options to correct the situation.
For instance:
  • Downscale and become a smaller agency.
  • Not renew the Head Start Program at the end of its current program-year agreement.
  • Look at property sales, as well as selling their shares in the Eastern Avenue Project.
  • Renew lines of credit, look for alternative sources of revenue.
  • Alert a variation of relevant stakeholders ranging from local elected officials to funders as early as March 2014.
  • Approach local non-profits and compatible agencies to consider taking over programs.

After a promise of an unsecure $300,000 loan fell through in September 2014, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. When Bronder-Giroux was asked why he resigned, which for many locals was a shock, he replied, “I thought it would be easier for the agency going forward without me.”

Since the agency’s current difficulties transpired under “my watch,” Bonder-Giroux felt perhaps those with the capacity to help would more willingly come to the table with new leadership in the executive director position. That remains to be seen, since local municipal reactions to date have either been a flight or a wait-and-see attitude. As for local non-profits, Housing Families will take over as the convener of the Homeless and Housing Task Force and Bread of Life will convene the Tri-City Hunger Network. Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) has been given responsibility through state-level consultations to manage the Energy Assistance and Head Start Programs.

When asked what lessons he learned from this experience, Bronder-Giroux stated “obviously, always be sure of your finances, the agency was probably too lean at the top, succession planning would be useful if the agency could afford it and keep financial software systems updated. You consult but at the end of the day you as executive director make the decisions and then you live with them,” he continues.

Does he have regrets?  “Yes, certainly I did not want my career ending at Tri-CAP to be this way,” he emoted. “People can fault us and say we should have known, but it’s a very complex issue.” Bronder-Giroux had offered to leave earlier but believes the Tri-CAP board kept him on as Executive Director because he knew the programs, the communities and the political players’ best. “If they (the board) thought I was dishonest in any way I know they would not have hesitated to remove me.”

He reserved his deepest concern for the prognosis of Tri-CAPs homeless programs. Explaining that they are not the sexy, well-known projects and they require matching funding of at least 25 percent, which makes it more difficult to find organizations willing to take charge of these programs.

Bronder-Giroux informed Neighborhood View that although he doesn’t have any concrete plans at the moment, he’s out there looking. However, he knows he doesn’t want to be an executive director again. Finally, he reminded Neighborhood View how proud of Tri-CAP he was, mentioning that he was just the figure head of the organization. It was the dedicated and extraordinary staff, he said, that attained some remarkable results over the years.

–Marcia Manong & Karen Lynch


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