Poor Relations

The Meadows is an old battleship of an apartment house afloat in a sea of sun-blasted pavement, weeds, and debris. Painted institutional gray, the building sits with nearly half its 51 units empty or loosely boarded up, their insides reeking of mildew and rotting carpet.

Seen through a broken window in one ground-floor unit, a pile of fast-food cups, cigarette butts, and soda bottles gives an idea of the state of repairs. The only hints of cheer in the complex's dust-and-Johnson-grass courtyard are the giggles of kids playing on the second-story balcony. When a camera is aimed their way, they smile and contort their hands into gang signs.

This corner of South Dallas, near Fair Park, is home to the entire menu of inner-city woes: drugs, poverty, blight. But for residents of the Meadows, those problems have been compounded by some of the people who claim to be soldiers still fighting the War on Poverty.

Those people work for the landlord--the Dallas County Community Action Committee (DCCAC), a tax-supported nonprofit agency that owns the Meadows and two other apartment buildings in South Dallas and Oak Cliff and runs a smattering of federally financed programs designed to help poor people with their rent, utility bills, job referrals, and bus tokens.

Just how good a job the DCCAC is doing managing those programs is a question state auditors have been asking for more than a year. Perhaps they should talk with Esther Parker, who leases a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of the Meadows, and hear her recollection of the day last year the DCCAC's new manager arrived.

"I thought she was a hoochie girl. Her dress was up to here. Top cut down to there. Big hoop earrings," says Parker, half-demonstrating the sight.

The new manager at the Meadows was 27-year-old Bridgett Sims, who recently had begun calling herself Bridgett Griffin--an apparent attempt to hide the fact that she is the daughter of Cleo Sims, DCCAC's executive director. There was a need to hide that fact. More than 75 percent of the agency's budget comes from tax money, and there are rules in its grants against hiring relatives.

Yet nobody at the Meadows was in the dark about Bridgett. She was in the habit of calling the 61-year-old Sims "my mother." Dallas authorities know something about Bridgett, too. She was busted three years ago for selling some fairly large amounts of cocaine to an undercover agent.

In October 1994, Sims agreed to sell an undercover Dallas cop a "big eight"--4.5 ounces--of cocaine for $3,100, according to a police affidavit. The officer met Sims at a house in the 2600 block of Lagow Street, near Fair Park. Sims sold the agent the drugs, left him a pager number, and told him she could supply him coke "whenever he needed more."

The narc weighed the coke, which turned out to be significantly less than 4.5 ounces, the warrant states. He paged Sims and complained about the short, and she delivered him another bag containing an additional 16.7 grams.

A week later, the officer made another buy from Sims: $2,900 for a 4.3-ounce "rock" of what tested later to be cocaine.

Sims pleaded no contest last August to three counts of drug dealing, was found guilty of the first-degree felonies, and was placed on 10 years' probation. She took the job at the Meadows in the interval between the indictment and the plea.

Bridgett's other work experience has been in hair and nails.
Parker, a 57-year-old former hardware store manager who has been renting at the Meadows for two years, says she had the new manager sized up that first day: "She was not management material."

Although there's no evidence Bridgett was dealing during her year or so at the helm of the troubled Meadows, the ground-floor office became a place for young men to stand around the front of the building and deal drugs, several tenants recall. "When the police would come, they'd run," says one tenant.

"I took one look at Bridgett," recalls another tenant, "and I knew we were in trouble."

A DCCAC brochure claims the agency is committed to "assisting low income persons finding their way out of poverty and toward more self-sufficiency."

That appears especially true if one is kin to Cleo Sims.
A Dallas Observer investigation of DCCAC has turned up evidence of nepotism, as well as complaints about questionable bidding practices and alleged kickbacks, all taking place amid a lack of oversight by a governing board that some members complain is kept largely in the dark.

At the same time, state regulators are probing the private nonprofit group's use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of government money.

While the DCCAC has undoubtedly helped some of the city's poorest residents, records obtained by the Observer show that the agency has also used its funds to pay bills for director Cleo Sims' mother, the late Annie Piper. The organization paid $298 for four of Piper's bills in August and September 1995, and $371 rent for Cleo Sims' sister Veola Valentine in late December 1995.  

Sims, who spoke several times to the Observer and then stopped returning calls, could not be reached for comment on the payments. Agency employees say DCCAC permits payments to relatives, but only if they meet poverty guidelines. Dr. Charles Hunter, who was president of the group when the bills were paid, says he believes Sims' relatives were qualified.

But one current and one former agency employee both say the amounts paid the Sims relatives were in excess of in-house guidelines. "There are other rules for Cleo's relatives," the current employee says.

Whether the payments pass muster or not, they are nothing compared with the blatant nepotism by the Sims clan, which has used the publicly funded organization as a sort of family employment agency for the past three to four years. Three of Cleo Sims' children have received agency work over that time--and they weren't recruits out of property management school. All three have felonies on their records, ranging from convictions on drug charges for daughter Bridgett and son Harvey Scott, to burglary and car theft in the case of son Gary Sims, who did manual labor around the properties from time to time.

Mother Cleo, the agency's glib $60,000-a-year administrator, was convicted of misdemeanor theft for writing a hot check in 1977, records show. She went to court twice more in the mid-1980s for hot checks, receiving probation both times; her record was cleared after she successfully completed probation on the later charge in 1986.

Cleo Sims was in court again in 1995, indicted in Dallas on a federal money-laundering charge. The indictment alleges she attempted to buy a 1993 Cadillac Seville with money the government claimed she knew was obtained in a robbery.

She was accused of acting as a "straw man," buying the car with $10,000 she received from Ernest Thompson, who was convicted for carrying out a string of seven armed robberies with Anthony Robinson, Sims' nephew, according to records and interviews with federal prosecutors.

Robinson's attorney, Paul Watler, recalls that the police moved in on the three as they test-drove the car at Lone Star Cadillac on Northwest Highway. The money-laundering charge was dismissed last year after Sims testified as a government witness against Thompson during a pretrial hearing, records show. Robinson was convicted last September on federal robbery charges, sentenced to 22 years, and sent to the pen in Leavenworth, Kansas. Thompson, Bridgett Sims' boyfriend, pleaded guilty and got 15 years.

Given these snapshots from the Sims family album, it's ironic that DCCAC runs criminal background checks on prospective tenants before they can rent one of the agency's marginal apartments.

Sims' seven-year tenure at the DCCAC has finally begun to win her detractors. Over the past year, against a backdrop of internal conflict about Sims' management, a quiet struggle has gone on to control the agency's 21-member board. At one meeting last spring, things got so hot that Sims' supporters on the panel called in constables to keep the peace.

So far, the board has supported Sims, who says she has done nothing wrong save loving her kids.

The critics "are making us sound like thieves. I have a real problem with that," says Sims, who adds that the kids were taken off their contracts last month. Says I.J. Givens, a community representative from the agency's Sand Branch office who since February has been the DCCAC's board president: "Miss Sims is doing an outstanding job."

The agency's governing board consists of seven people appointed by local government officials, seven from community organizations, and seven elected from the poor communities the agency is meant to serve. The idealistic design is a holdover from DCCAC's birth in 1965 as a lead agency in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. It is one of 52 community action committees in Texas.

Despite the lofty goal of getting a cross-section of society in the leadership, the unwieldy set-up has made for weak boards and loose oversight, observers say, and DCCAC has had more than its share of scandal over the years. In the late 1980s, prior to Sims' tenure as executive director, the agency nearly went out of existence amid accusations of theft and corruption, including charges that employees paid their own electric bills or weather-proofed their houses with money meant for the poor. Before that debacle was over, the agency lost five programs, including Head Start. The staff dwindled from 80 to 16. The budget shrank from $12 million to $1 million, and DCCAC's reputation, along with any prayer of private contributions, evaporated.  

Now, a new scandal has officially been declared.
In May, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs sent in a team of six auditors, who completed the agency's latest monitoring report July 9.

The report asks DCCAC to answer dozens of questions concerning possible corruption, waste, and mismanagement at the 32-year-old nonprofit group.

Sources tell the Observer that state regulators have been receiving employee complaints for nearly two years about the Sims family nepotism and other violations of federal rules. But the follow-up investigation has moved along slowly.

Last year's audit raised "major questions," including the amount the agency was paying Cleo Sims' son Harvey Scott and why the organization let its past president, Charles Hunter, serve two years past the end of his five-year term. DCCAC stalled the bureaucrats on some questions for almost a year, prompting a letter in June from Sam Guzman, the housing department's director of administration. He warned Sims of

"the severity of the findings"; "the delinquency of a response from DCCAC"; and the fact that "many of the serious findings cited are still in existence."
While the state groused, it increased the agency's allotment 25 percent this year under the Community Service Block Grant, which provides the bulk of DCCAC's $1.9 million annual budget and pays its staff of 29.

"These are serious allegations, no doubt. We are trying to resolve them," says Brian Montgomery, spokesman for the Texas housing department. "That is why we've come to the point where we're at today."

He declined to discuss specific allegations until the agency has had an opportunity to respond in writing. The responses arrived Monday, but Montgomery said they would be reviewed and analyzed before being released.

Despite the state's languor, auditors are finally beginning to home in on some major issues of spending and management.

One is a project called the Point Apartments, 10 units at 1803 E. Grand Ave. that DCCAC renovated in 1994 to shelter the homeless--at first men, now women. A state auditor found the complex to be only 60 percent occupied and physically deteriorating only three years after the state provided $443,377 for renovations--an astounding $44,337 per one-bedroom unit. That's enough to buy at least 10 three-bedroom homes in South Dallas.

"Because of the severity of the condition of the property in relation to the short amount of time which has elapsed since rehabilitation and the amount of investment per unit, the Department questions the entire amount of the award," the state review says.

An inspection of the two-story white, red-trimmed apartment house "raises questions as to the type, the extent, and the quality of rehabilitation completed as well as the costs associated with the work," the state report concludes.

A railing made of cedar fencing had fallen off, the upstairs floors appeared to lack support, and the balcony was found to be deteriorating, the auditor writes. The plumbing was leaking, and the water heaters were installed in clothes closets, creating a fire hazard.

More troubling yet, the state couldn't locate "evidence of procurement"--how the contractor was picked--in DCCAC files. State procedures require "full and open competition," according to the housing department.

The contractor DCCAC hired was Charles Roberson Construction Co.
Roberson has never registered in Dallas County's "doing business as" files, as the law requires, nor has he ever incorporated and filed papers with the Texas secretary of state, records show.

Nevertheless, he landed the Point project, where tax records reviewed by state inspectors show he was paid $247,430. Says Sims, "He's done a good job."

Sims and other employees of the agency say Roberson also was hired by DCCAC to do a $100,000 renovation of DCCAC's Ewing Place Apartments and the renovation of its strip shopping center in the 3100 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard--all of the agency's biggest jobs over the past five years.

Thomas Higier, a lawyer and former member of DCCAC's board of directors, says he knew Roberson to be a friend of Cleo Sims. During the time the work was going on, it was "common knowledge" around the DCCAC downtown office that Sims and Roberson were very close, say three employees who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. One recalls Roberson sending Sims "expensive candy and flowers" for Valentine's Day in 1994. Another says Roberson had "the run of the office."

Sims did not respond to telephone messages requesting comment on Roberson. Hunter says Roberson got the work because "he was willing to do it for less. He was willing to bid lower than most."  

For a period in 1994, Roberson used one of the storefronts in DCCAC's shopping plaza on Martin Luther King Boulevard for his office, Dallas property records show. The county appraisal district still sends bills to that address for a $30,000 piece of property Roberson bought in Fair Park that same year.

Several people at Skyline Printers, the current tenant, say bills and creditors in search of Roberson keep coming, but they have no idea where he is.

These days, Roberson is a difficult man to find. A year ago he was doing business under the name C&R Construction Co.--again unregistered in county files--but the telephone number on a C&R bid sheet from last November no longer works, and Roberson is not at the listed address.

Sims says a state inspector visited the Point project when it was being built and "thought they were doing great." Dallas code inspectors also checked the construction "at every phase," she says. "We've pulled out all the invoices, and we were within a few thousand dollars of the contractor's costs."

Although Sims has an opportunity to provide further documents, the state found that information supporting $127,567 worth of work was "unavailable" for the auditor's review. The state is now asking for some very specific information about Roberson's work: "write-ups and cost estimates associated with actual work completed...invoices from the general contractor detailing the scope of work performed, a breakdown of labor and materials."

If, in the end of its monitoring, the state concludes DCCAC has not properly spent its money, it can ask the agency to pay the money back. These sums, board members say, would plunge DCCAC hopelessly into the red.

One of DCCAC's latest construction projects, at the Meadows Apartments, has earned a nickname among the tenants there.

They call it "that jive fence."
The partly completed ornamental iron security fence is not one of those items currently under review by state auditors, because the apartment is not directly funded by the state. The fence's history, though, gives a glimpse into how bids are awarded and how work gets done at DCCAC.

In the minds of the Meadows' residents, a secure fence around their complex would be a godsend. "If there was a security fence around it, it would be much better," says Lillian Baker, a delightful 72-year-old whose perfectly tended apartment is filled with pictures of her kids, none of whom, she volunteers, "ever made me go down to the juvenile home."

"Kids--they're not from in here--break into these empty apartments and smoke drugs," says Baker, who never goes out after dark. She's lived in the Meadows for 12 years and has much of her rent paid directly to DCCAC through the federal government's Section 8 housing program.

Last year, DCCAC applied for a grant to build a fence from the City of Dallas' South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. The city gave DCCAC $15,000 to cover a portion of the costs.

The city's files show that four contractors bid for the job last November, but according to the man who came in with the low bid, Cleo Sims helped him make certain his would be the winner.

That man is Antonio Griffin, who went to prison in 1989 on an eight-year sentence for attempted house burglary and robbery. Paroled in May 1992, he registered with the county in 1993 as Antonio's Cleaning Express. He says he's moved up from that to construction work, but hasn't gone back to change the name.

Griffin, who worked under contract as an electrician and handyman for DCCAC in 1996 and 1997, says he and Sims knew what the other bids were when they arrived at his price for the fence job.

The 26-year-old ex-con provided the Observer names and figures he said were contained on original bids that he says Sims showed him for the Meadows fence. Griffin's numbers match precisely bids on file with the city.

Griffin's bid--hand-printed on a non-letterhead form--was for $30,000. The next lowest was for $33,426 from C&R Construction, signed by Charles Roberson; Allied Fence Co., a well-established contractor, came in at $69,000 for the required 1,400 feet of fence and two sliding gates. Quality Ironworks, another company with a solid history, bid $52,291.

Bill Tolbert, assistant director of the Dallas comptroller's office, says the city wanted copies of the bids to make certain that the best price was obtained and that bidding was done "in a fair and equitable way." But he also says that picking the contractor was ultimately DCCAC's responsibility and that sealed bids were not required.

Cleo Sims did not return telephone calls about Griffin's claims.
Like his sister Bridgett Sims, Harvey Scott was working last year as a contractor for the agency. Scott had two contracts, in fact: one for lawn mowing and maintenance under the name Harvey's Maintenance Service, signed in 1994, and another under the name Ocean Port Services for delivery work, signed in 1995.  

That year, DCCAC paid Scott $18,874 for yard and maintenance work--an amount the state found excessive in last year's monitoring report. Also like his sister, Scott has a drug record. His is a felony cocaine possession conviction in 1991 that resulted in five years' probation, records show. Dallas police arrested him in a car wash in South Dallas, where they saw him holding a syringe containing a brown-colored mix of heroin and cocaine, according to a sworn police affidavit. Last year, a judge extended Scott's probation for two more years, so it now runs until 1998, court records show.

He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft five times between 1977 and 1990.

According to Griffin, Scott had another source of income besides his maintenance-man pay. Griffin says Scott demanded a portion of the money he made on DCCAC jobs. "You pay a little to get a little," Griffin told the Observer.

Scott could not be reached to comment.
Griffin claims he paid Scott a total of more than $3,000--several hundred dollars each time he did some type of work for the agency. "He needed the money to pay his bills. I had to go with it. He was getting me jobs with the company."

Griffin says he paid Scott about $800 from money he had been paid for his work on the fence. "I got sick and tired of that," Griffin says. "Everybody in my family knew about it."

When he complained to Cleo Sims about the payments, she denied any knowledge and asked Griffin why he was giving Scott money, Griffin says.

For the fence project, DCCAC hired Griffin in late November and expected the work to be done in late April. Four months past that deadline, only a small part of the fence is completed, and residents say no work has been done since spring.

The completed section stretches about 30 feet down the property's north side, and it's already grown over and choking with weeds. From there, only top and bottom rails have been installed around most of the hard-pan lot. The work pathetically trails off along Meadow Street, where the iron fence and poles, stuck weakly in the dirt, sway at the slightest touch. At the parking lot, the fence simply ends, half-fallen-over, a single iron rail tracing the horizon.

There's no sign of two "drive-through security gates," or the "walk-through gate" with "in-out remote security pad for entry," as Griffin's bid promises.

"We're looking for Antonio Griffin," says Sims, who reported to the city that the agency was having problems with the contractor. "We're gonna have to go out and get donations to get that done."

Griffin says a trailer full of iron vanished from the job site, and he wasn't getting paid, so he walked away in April.

Wherever the truth lies in the debate about why the fence work stopped, failure was not the message DCCAC staff had for the board at the time the job should have been done. According to the minutes of the agency's March 25 directors' meeting, DCCAC's finance director informed the group, "An iron fence has been placed around the Meadows Apartment complex."

He didn't say it was a "jive fence."

Seated in her office--a smallish room filled with a big fig tree and other large plants in a renovated building at the east end of downtown--Cleo Sims talks in dismissive tones about all the questions the state has been asking about her agency.

Indignantly, almost haughtily, she refers to one critic as "disrespectful." Later, she complains in a grittier tone, "I've got to deal with this crap."

The state regulators "don't have a clue about what it takes to run a program for low-income folk," she complains. "They don't have a clue...I've gone into my purse to assist folk who need help. There is no misappropriation of funds going on here; there just is not."

Around the organization, people paint different pictures of Sims. Says one former high-ranking employee, "She's a visionary, but maybe not the best manager." Says a woman still on the payroll, "This lady don't care nothing about the poor. She smiles in your face and stabs you in the back."

Several employees say the nepotism has hurt morale, and Sims has told staff members that the turmoil surrounding the agency is a "no-win" situation for them.

Sims and the agency's former board president--Charles Hunter, a retired psychology professor who held that post from 1990 until last February--are credited with rebuilding DCCAC after it nearly closed seven years ago. The Dallas Morning News wrote the agency's obituary on January 4, 1990, under the headline "DCCAC to lose last program."  

After two trips into receivership and years of government investigations, State District Judge Michael O'Neil ordered the agency's last trickle of public money, a $1 million-a-year Community Services Block Grant, transferred to the county. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said at the time he thought the county could best handle the program without creating a new bureaucracy.

But Hunter opposed the move, and a Washington lawyer hired by the nonprofit blocked the transfer, invoking federal rules that allow only a "community action program" with a 21-member board to receive the block grant.

The feds were owed an outstanding debt of $1.2 million for disallowed costs from the 1980s, but they declined to collect it or shut the agency down.

DCCAC refused to die.
There were "faults, and lots of folks decided not to take any responsibility for it," says Sims. But, she adds, "We were given the opportunity to restructure and bring the organization back."

Sims, a former retail manager, arrived at DCCAC in the mid-1980s, where old agency forms list her as a recruiter in a program to train older workers. "When I came, I knew nothing about social services," she says. She was one of a handful of employees left in 1990, when a Hunter-led board gave her the top job.

"When I took over, we had one community center--one," she says, referring to the offices where the poor go for help. "Now we have eight. We have two thrift stores. We have a restaurant. We have a commercial strip center. We have three apartment complexes and more on the drawing board."

Says Hunter, who remains closely involved with the agency, "We've been used as a model throughout the state; we've gotten very good reviews."

The agency's most expensive thrust over the past several years has been a move into low-income housing.

As of December 1995, according to the most recent financial audit report available, DCCAC had outstanding loans of nearly $728,608 on its properties, which include the three apartment houses and the strip center. Its assets in land, buildings, and equipment totaled $1.4 million.

But the agency has bigger plans.
In November, HUD awarded DCCAC $2.1 million to construct 40 apartments for the elderly in Garland. The Garland City Council voted in June to spend $174,335 on the project. Several council members voted against it, saying the costs were well above the average cost per unit in this market.

Sims says the deal is scheduled to close early next month. "All the funding's in place," she says.

"Uh oh," says Jose Alvarado, Garland's director of neighborhood development, when asked about the state's review of DCCAC. He said he had not heard of any problem with the agency, and referred other questions to his boss, who was out of town.

Montgomery, the state housing department spokesman, declined to say how the audit might affect a South Dallas townhouse venture also on DCCAC's drawing board, called Southern Acres. Sims says the state's part of that funding is expected to be about $250,000. "If there was going to be a holdup, that would be a crime," insists Sims. "I think that's needed housing."

At one point, holding up mock-ups of the projects, she says these are the things that matter to her--and her family.

She gave her daughter a job because "I love my daughter dearly and unconditionally," she says. "I do what I can to assist my kids to become better folk...She needed a job." Tax forms show the daughter was paid $25,683 last year.

Bringing up her own lifestyle as a defense to the state's audit, Sims says she drives "a 1988 falling-apart car that falls down every other week."

That said, a review of property records in Dallas County suggests Sims' 1988 Cadillac is less a necessity than a spending choice. She is listed as owner of a lot appraised at $29,760 in Balch Springs purchased in 1994 and a lot valued at $14,000 near Duncanville. She purchased a creek-side home on Hunters View Lane in South Oak Cliff, appraised at $85,930, in July 1974.

Some of the expenses mentioned in the state's review draw a picture of a poverty agency that doesn't manage its tight sources of money very closely and affords its top official generous spending. DCCAC paid more than $4,000 in bounced-check charges in 1996 and the first four months of 1997, and $6,084 in penalties and fines for late payment of taxes, according to the audit and interviews.  

Patsy Wright, the agency's assistant finance director, puts that problem at the feet of the state, saying the housing and community affairs department is late in sending grant funds. But Montgomery says the state pays DCCAC its allotments ahead of schedule. It is the only community action program in the state that has accumulated these amounts of late fees, which the state will not pay with government funds, he says.

Meanwhile, Sims spent $276 in April 1996 on plants. Her cellular phone bill for the year was $4,200. There was a purchase last September for "straw hats for staff." They cost $127.36.

In all, the state is questioning $13,886 in DCCAC checks paid the director, including a $1,747 payroll advance, travel charges, and hotel receipts. Sims showed the Observer files of several questioned travel expenses and purchases, requested at random, and she was able to provide receipts and documents to back them up as legitimate agency expenses.

"I think the state came in looking for trouble," says board president Givens. "I think they came with that intent because of the factional trouble we're having."

Sims, too, is quick to dismiss the state's inquiry as politics. "It's dirty politics," she says. "A group of men who have said it's time for black men to be in charge want to take over this organization."

Considering the problems cited in the 1996 state monitoring report and the fact that employees have been complaining to the state for two years, the agency's woes seem to run deeper than that. Still, some sizzling board politics have emerged around the turmoil of the past year. There has been an unsuccessful coup, a successful move by Sims' allies to rally support for her on the board, and attempts on both sides to line up support among influential African-American politicians.

The coup--as many call it--came last winter, when Teddy Hawkins, who has worked in several local political campaigns, and Ken Green, a former college counselor who has run unsuccessfully for several elected posts in Dallas, lobbied Dallas City Council members to make appointments to the DCCAC board to fill vacant seats.

The seven new members marched into a meeting in February with their letters, and the coup was on.

"It failed," says Givens. "Some guys came in with letters saying they were on the board and tried to conduct business. "So what happened is, we had time to think about it and see what had gone on, what the coup-attempt people were trying to do. We took the necessary action to get the board in its proper state."

What that means is that Sims and Hunter--the past president who had already stepped down in February under pressure from the state--sought appointments sympathetic to Sims, or so say Green and Hawkins.

"Cleo Sims is the DCCAC," says Green, a board member in the early 1990s. "The board should run the agency, but it was always just Dr. Hunter and Cleo Sims."

Sims' allies were able to kick the coup members out by invoking rules giving only a nominating committee the power to seat new board members. That panel is headed by DCCAC's vice president, Don Weckwerth, a former officer of Commercial National Bank. That institution, which last year was bought by Inwood National Bank, provided DCCAC with $300,000 in loans. Asked recently to comment about Sims and the agency, Weckwerth hung up the phone.

The board eventually picked the soft-spoken Givens as the new president. "I'm quiet, but I'm not someone who sits about here and doesn't do a job," he says.

Green, who says the plan was for him to become executive director and Hawkins president of the board, says the coup failed because "Teddy talked too much. He gave them time to circle the wagons."

Hawkins, who is voluble, says he wants DCCAC to sell its housing--"They're a slumlord," he says--and refocus the group on job training. His first wish, though, is to oust Sims, and he and a group of picketers were in front of the agency this month, blasting the Sims family's nepotism.

Sims, meanwhile, has nothing but contempt for Green and Hawkins, to whom she refers as "those idiots." The former, she says, "has run for everything and never won"; the latter "hasn't been with [any organization] for more than five minutes."

While Sims has been able to keep Green and Hawkins at bay, she's had a harder time with Khaleef Hasan, a human services program administrator for the City of Dallas and a member, back in the 1960s, of the original Black Panthers. Hasan is Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb's appointee to the DCCAC board; he took the position last year.  

"I'd ask Cleo Sims questions and, you know, people acted like I'd slapped my mother," he says. "The board doesn't know anything about what's going on."

In Sims' view, Hasan was "rude" and "disrespectful," and the agency's board, alleging that Hasan had brought in outsiders to disrupt the organization, voted 8-2 to oust him at its last meeting, held July 22.

That move prompted Lipscomb to weigh in with a scathing letter defending his man to Givens and the board. "Khaleef Hasan will remain my board appointee," wrote Lipscomb.

The councilman, after whose mother the group named its strip shopping center in 1993, ripped the board for not following its bylaws in voting the removal. A two-thirds majority is required. And he questioned whether the sitting board has any authority at all.

"Most of the people on this board should have been removed because of continued absenteeism," Lipscomb wrote. "Even your position as president is questionable, since this was basically decided without the board voting."

Givens declined to respond when asked about Lipscomb's letter and hung up the phone.

As for Hasan's style on the board, Lipscomb wrote, "It appears that this agency is not used to board members examining and questioning information that's given to them. Judging from the facts of the audit from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Khaleef had good reasons to seek this information."

Sims had even less luck during an appearance three weeks ago on Commissioner Price's radio show on KKDA-AM. Unbeknownst to Sims, Price had sought out a copy of the state's new report for the visit. "I pulled my file from the old DCCAC...And I've got a problem," said Price, referring to the agency's last scandal. "This almost reads exactly like the 1988 audit. It was as if someone had pulled it...I'm having a real problem understanding why I'm seeing the same kind of report."

While Sims fends off critics locally and attempts to answer state auditors' questions, the grass at the Meadows finally got mowed a few weeks ago. It had been allowed to grow about two feet tall.

Two tenants, Lakesha Thompson and a neighbor, say Cleo Sims' son, Harvey Scott the maintenance man, agreed to pay them $50 to mow the grass. The neighbor had the mower stowed in her living room and said she was waiting to be paid.

Tenant Beverly Thompson says she doesn't want to sound like a "bad tenant," but she is tired of having to fill up her bathtub to flush the toilet, and "this gate out here--that's never been finished."

"It's hard to get anything done," she says. "People say, 'This is a family deal here. That's why nothing gets done.'"

Dallas Observer intern Rebeca Rodriguez contributed to this story.

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All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

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