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Leader at Somerville nonprofit departs amid financial audit

Posted by Matt Byrne  July 3, 2012 11:25 AM

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An ongoing, internal audit of the Community Action Agency of Somerville's finances has led to the departure of the group's executive director, Kimberly Smith-Cofield, according to the president of the agency's board of directors.

Smith-Cofield's last day was Saturday, said Suzanne Bremer, president of the board of trustees. Smith-Cofield led the agency since January 2009.

The agency, founded in 1981, is Somerville's legally designated anti-poverty group, and runs a HeadStart program for children in Somerville and Cambridge.

Bremer said in phone interviews Monday that confidential information was passed to the board by an independent auditor who performs an annual, legally required review of the non-profit's finances.

In the course of the annual review, the auditor, James A. George, a Boston accountant, gave confidential information to Bremer and other board members.

"We had an audit finding and the board investigated this finding, and as a result Kim Smith-Cofield is no longer the executive director," Bremer said in a phone interview Monday.

Bremer declined to specify the nature of the audit information, or to say whether Smith-Cofield was fired or if she resigned.

"The board at CAAS takes fiduciary responsibilities extremely seriously," she said, but "we need to balance the need for transparency with our employees' right to privacy."

Smith-Cofield was not reachable at several phone numbers listed for her, and  Monday night no one answered the door at a Waltham address listed for her. Several members of the board of directors also did not respond to calls for comment.

While the group initiates a search for new leadership, the board appointed Melissa McWhinney the acting executive director, Bremer said. Previously, McWhinney led the group's advocacy and community service efforts, according to the agency's staff roster; she took the helm June 28, according to an email sent to agency staff announcing the switch.

".. [McWhinney] will work with the board, staff, funders, and others to continue the important work of this outstanding agency," Bremer wrote to her colleagues. "The board would like to thank Melissa for stepping into this role and also everyone else here at CAAS for their hard work and continuing to maintain the high level of integrity and service that the agency is known for in our community."

Once finalized, the annual audit will be made public when it is filed with the Massachusetts attorney general, whose office has oversight of nonprofit accounting and publishes financial information of all such groups registered with the state.

Bremer declined to speculate on when the audit would be completed.

"It's a pending matter right now," said John Carey, the agency's attorney, in a phone interview. "That's all we got to say at this point."

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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