ComLinks will officially close its doors Saturday.
The board members of the embattled, Malone-based community action agency decided their only option was shutting the organization down after it determined there's no way to make it economically viable.
"We're finally at the very end here," said board President Joe Selenski. "It's been more than 20 years now, and at one time (ComLinks) certainly did wonderful work."
That's why he and several other new board members jumped in to try to help salvage the organization in recent years.
"It was just a little too far gone, the hole was just a little too deep, and we had to pull the plug in order to avoid hurting more people," Selenski said. "So it's time to pull the plug, but something else will rise up and take its place, I'm sure, in time."
ComLinks was founded in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. It owned and operated low-income housing units throughout the North Country and had programs to help the hungry, families that need heat, victims of domestic violence and small businesses in need of start-up loans.
Selenski said all of ComLinks' services have been successfully transferred to other organizations now. ComLinks has been shedding services over the last few years, and the last few programs it was operating, its weatherization and gleaning programs, have now been transferred to the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties Inc., a Plattsburgh-based group that has provided services to low-income people for nearly 50 years.
ComLinks' buildings will be closed to the public, but some work still has to be done to complete the closure process. Files need to be secured, final reports need to be filed, and the legal dissolution and closing needs to be done, Selenski said. All the organization's assets need to be liquidated, all its equipment needs to be sold off, and any remaining money expected from the state needs to be obtained.
Then ComLinks can pay off as much of its debt as possible. Selenski said he's not sure yet how much will be able to be paid off, but "We hope it's a good amount."
It has been in decline in the last five years. In late 2007, the vast majority of its employees rose up in protest at what they called a hostile workplace culture led by then-CEO Nancy Reich. Two supervisors involved in that movement were fired for insubordination, and other workers voted to unionize shortly thereafter.
In April 2008, it came out that Reich had used ComLinks' public funds to make political donations, which 501(c)3 nonprofit corporations aren't allowed to do.
In 2009 the board suspended, investigated and then fired Reich, prompted by employee resignations and complaints.
In July 2010, the state comptroller's office produced a scathing report accusing Reich of spending almost $100,000 in grant money slated to help the needy on things like massages, wine and lavish meals for herself. In December 2011, Reich agreed to pay $1,500 in restitution when she pleaded guilty to one felony count of grand larceny. She had moved to Montana by then.
The audit also named Brian Cassini, then head of the weatherization program, and Chief Financial Officer Brenda Mallette-Glennon in wrongdoing, but ComLinks kept them on, promoting Cassini to executive director. Mallette-Glennon resigned in June 2011, saying ComLinks couldn't afford her anymore, and the organization laid off Cassini this March.
Selenski said he believes the people who run the national network of community action agencies may try to start up a new community action agency in the area once ComLinks is completely dissolved. He said he and the rest of the current board would not be involved in that effort, though, other than possibly to give advice to the new organization.
"At this point, I could be an expert on telling them what not to do," Selenski said.
He said he sits on several other boards, and after seeing all that ComLinks has gone through in recent years, that knowledge has helped him avoid pitfalls in his work on those other boards.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.