The board of directors for the Safety Zone, St. John’s victims’ advocacy agency, cut ties with its founder and executive director of 13 years, Iris Kern, due to federal and territorial grant compliance issues.
Trouble at the agency began in February 2004, when the Law Enforcement Planning Commission ( LEPC) — a major source of funding for The Safety Zone — sent a letter to Kern which stated that the Safety Zone was disqualified from further grant funding from their agency, explained the Safety Zone’s Assistant Director and Financial Compliance Director Shelley Williams.
“The LEPC stated in their letter that the primary reason for the disqualification was a lack of compliance,” said Williams. V.I. Inspector General Requests Audit
V.I. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt sent the agency a letter in April, 2004, requesting a physical and compliance audit of The Safety Zone to include verification of expenses, Williams added.
“With various support and intervention of private and government sectors, The Safety Zone was able to implement corrective measures and resolve its issues with LEPC and the Inspector General,” said Williams. “Because of the resolution and internal administrative changes, Dr. Kern was able to continue in her role as executive director.”
Trouble for the agency crept up again in 2006, when Kern received a written notice of recension of a $40,000 grant from the V.I. Department of Justice, Paternity and Child Support Division, due to a lack of providing required documentation, Williams continued.
Not In Compliance
The Board of Directors received another letter in December, 2006, from the then-Commissioner of the Department of Human Services Sodonie Halbert, according to Williams.
“The letter stated that it had come to her attention that The Safety Zone had been out of compliance for some time with the necessary reporting of funds received from the V.I. government,” Williams said. “On December 27, 2006, we received a letter stating that The Safety Zone was required to under-go a program review and financial audit due by February 9, 2007.”
Financial Rewards Withheld
“The department issued corrective measures that were effective immediately that all financial rewards were withheld until the conditions were met,” Williams added.
The corrective measures included withholding a recently-awarded $150,000 grant to launch an anti-drinking after school program across St. John. The board of directors had no other choice but to continue on a different path, without its former executive director, Williams explained.
“For the agency to maintain credibility and meet contractual requirements, it bears responsibility of accountability and transparency to the board of directors of The Safety Zone, the government and private funders and the community,” said Williams. “Unfortunately, to achieve these goals, the board of directors didn’t see an alternative course other than to sever its ties with Dr. Kern.”
The agency is still offering most of its services, and will be collaborating with the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas during their transitional phase, Williams continued.
Seeking Continued Support
“The board of directors seeks the continued support of the community as it moves through this transition to create a stronger supportive system for victims of violence on St. John,” said Williams.
The Safety Zone’s board of directors is searching for a new executive director and is hoping to secure the service of advocates as quickly as possible, William added.
The second-hand store the Phoenix remains open at the agency’s Lumber Yard office Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and always accepts donations. For more information call The Safety Zone at 693-7233.