Too Many Chiefs

The only center Dallas has to help Native Americans is mired in ineptitude and tribal politics

Trying to get a dental appointment is almost impossible, says Sheila Sudderth-Heidleberg, who takes her three daughters into DIC for medical and dental care. As with rent assistance, appointments for dental work are only taken one day a month.

Lou Nevaquaya, a Comanche, has grown weary of the DIC's paltry services. "They're just giving us chump change," she says. "It's falling short, but that's the way a lot of our services are. That's why you'll find a lot of disenchanted Indians out there, because that's all they dole out to us--bad services and limited amounts of this and that."

Judging by the DIC's recent financial and political problems, things are only going to get worse.

The DIC's books, quite simply, are in a shambles. The last time an independent audit was performed was in 1993, and the accounts were out of balance by $140,007. Joann Peters, an attorney working for the DIC, says the Indian Health Services--which funds the center's health clinics--accepted the center's explanation for the discrepancy, as well as other questions about the DIC's accounting practices.

But the Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal Women, Infants and Children program, has not been so tolerant. Last year, WIC decided not to renew its contract with the center and cut off about $300,000 worth of funding that would have been used to provide food to pregnant women and children.

Jack Metz, director of the operations division in WIC's Texas office, says the center's failure to perform audits prompted the funding cutoff.

"They were given time to comply, and they didn't do it," Metz says. "So we held up some money due them under the contract. Then we declined to re-enter the agreement."

The loss of WIC funding marked the second time recently that the DIC has lost money because of its business practices. Last year, the center didn't reapply for $40,000 under the Indian Child Welfare program. The DIC had to pass on the program because the center spends more on overhead and administrative expenses than the program would cover.

Peters blames the lack of audits on turnover in the accounting director's job. But Mike Tydlaska, the center's current accounting director, says antiquated computers and accounting software are the biggest problems.

Biermann says the center has enough trouble keeping its records up to date day by day, much less going back and reconstructing past finances for an auditor's review.

"When I came in there in 1994 as clinic director, they [the audits] hadn't been done in a couple of years," Biermann says. "When they get behind, in order to get caught up, to shorten that time period in there, you have to add more people, or you have to shorten that time span."

Tydlaska and others argue that the DIC could be saving money by changing some of its accounting practices--such as the way it bills individual programs to pay for things like salaries and overhead.

But the center's method of dipping into program funds to pay overhead is also under fire, specifically because of the way the center collects rent for its building. Right now, the DIC deducts rent payments from the budgets of most of the programs it administers, charging $2.41 a square foot for the space each program uses.

The money is paid to a separate holding company, the Dallas American Indian Center, which is effectively controlled by the DIC. The holding company earns about $39,816 a year in rent, assuming the money is actually deposited where it belongs. (When he began in February, Tydlaska says he found $30,000 worth of rent checks that had never been deposited. Only about $10,000 of the checks were still valid; many had expired.)

The holding company actually owns the building housing the DIC, but the DIC controls the holding company. As the building has already been paid off, some clients wonder if it is proper for DIC to be steering money into the holding company account.

Abe Jackson, a former board member, says he thinks the arrangement passes muster, but admits that "when you sit down and start talking about reasoning, it doesn't sound very reasonable."

Metz and James Serrata, both in the Texas WIC office, say the holding company arrangement is unusual at best. "There's something a little shady about that," Metz says.

"If the contractor owns its own building, it usually is depreciated. Once it is depreciated, it shouldn't be charging rent," Serrata says.

The original idea behind the holding company, which was formed in 1992, was to squirrel away money to buy a new building, Jackson says. But so far that hasn't happened. Instead, the money has been used to pay the center's legal bills, which are mounting.

The DIC board's treasurer also happens to be the agent for the holding company.

Even though board members control both entities, Frank McLemore says he never attended a Dallas American Indian Center meeting during his nine months as a DIC board member. "The holding company supposedly has its own board of directors but, by law, they're supposed to have separate meetings," he says. "I don't ever recall seeing any minutes where they had meetings at all."

Whatever the condition of the tribal center's books, its staff is unquestionably in turmoil. The center is now trying to fill five openings, but really needs to add at least 10 more people to its 25-member staff, Tydlaska says. Among the open jobs are most of the center's highest posts, including executive director, clinic director, and jobs development coordinator.

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THE DALLAS INTER-TRIBAL CENTER was started by one person Bernice Johnson. Who saw that their was need for the Native American who lived in the Dallas Metro area. Please give credit where credit is deserve. Thank you.