We wonder if Four-County Executive Director Ericka Whitaker likes a challenge.
She must, to willingly take on an agency — and a position — that has received more damaging headlines than any other in this newspaper; most recently, a story on page 1A of Friday’s edition detailed the remarkable extent of the bold, unscrupulous spending that occurred under the leadership of previous director Richard Greene.
If State Auditor Beth Wood’s summation is correct, the abuse was so pervasive that the agency’s employees were directed to take part in the abuse of federal and state funds on a daily basis — and if not directed, given implied consent or encouraged to look the other way. She said that bad practices of fiscal management may be ingrained into said employees — in our view, hinting that an agency turnaround may require starting over with a clean slate.
Though two of the agency’s leaders have either been terminated or taken flight, we don’t know how many of the staff who served under Greene remain. We know Greene’s assistant Kim Clark — who was found by the audit to have pushed through, with Greene’s assistance, a questionable contract — remains. We wonder how well she will serve the new director.
We also doubt that we have heard the end of Greene, who along with others we suspect may face criminal charges for their blatant and long-term abuse of taxpayer dollars.
It’s hard to say we are confident that the agency will clean up its act, but we believe that Whitaker is willing and able to tackle the mess. Her long history of administration shows a proven track record, and her time in Robeson County may have exposed her to enough history of local politics to lend her a healthy suspicion.
We are encouraged that both Whitaker and Jason King, Robeson County’s assistant manager and now Four-County board chairman, responded positively to the audit and are taking steps to make an improvement. We know that they will be under heavy scrutiny and that few changes are made overnight.
With the task that has befallen the new leaders comes also an opportunity to restore the agency to what it should be — fully devoted to a mission of helping kids start life on the right track — rather then continue a legacy of bad examples.