HILO — County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter served on a council subcommittee that steered $40,000 to a nonprofit where she is a board member and her child receives services.
Poindexter, who represents Hamakua, subsequently recused herself from voting Tuesday when the subcommittee presented to the council Committee on Human Services and Social Services a list of where to distribute $1.5 million in taxpayer funding. The 8-0 vote sends the recommendations to the 2013-14 budget, which faces subsequent council votes.
Poindexter said her position on the four-member subcommittee was not a conflict of interest because the subcommittee didn’t have final say on which nonprofit got funding. The subcommittee, also composed of Committee Chairwoman Karen Eoff, Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, winnowed the list and made the recommendations after hearing presentations from the nonprofits that applied.
“I think I should recuse myself even though I know I could be very fair and impartial,” Poindexter said.
She said after the meeting that she recused herself simply to avoid the appearance of a conflict, even though she is confident she didn’t have one because the subcommittee was only advisory in nature. The subcommittee was disbanded after providing its recommendations.
“The bottom line is, it’s the council’s decision if they don’t think the organization is worthy. I’m one of nine. I don’t make the final decision,” Poindexter said. “I’m as transparent as I can be. I know I’m being fair and impartial.”
When asked by another council member which board she served on, Poindexter merely said, “the board of adults with disabilities.” When asked after the meeting why she didn’t name the nonprofit, Poindexter said she didn’t think it was “fair” that the nonprofit be named.
The nonprofit, the Brantley Center Inc. in Honokaa, was one of the top four funding recipients and one of 25 nonprofits that received all of the funding it asked for. In all, 105 of the 116 applications received some funding.
The Brantley Center provides vocational rehabilitation services and educational services to special-needs clients. It has a $345,000 annual budget and eight employees and relies on state and county funding, private fundraising and program sales and services, according to its grant application.
The nonprofit received $13,750 from the council last year, $15,000 in the 2011-12 fiscal year and $20,000 during each of the previous two fiscal years.
Brantley Executive Director Steve Pavao said the nonprofit traditionally received $40,000 per year until the recession hit.
“They kept cutting us and cutting us,” Pavao said. “We had to cut back services to our clients.”
Pavao said Poindexter has been an unpaid, volunteer board member for about a year and a half. It’s customary, as in Poindexter’s case, to draw board members from among the families of clients receiving services, he said.
“The board doesn’t review or participate in the grant writing at all. They don’t get involved in the day-to-day operations,” Pavao said. “She didn’t even look at the application prior to us submitting it.”