Sunday, March 13, 2005


The Lakeland Ledger is continuing it's hard look at the Polk County Opportunity Council, the Community Action Agency which is mandated with assisting low income residents of Polk County as well as providing the area's Head Start program. Anyone who has been a regular visitor to this site will know that I have, on several occasions, highlighted the problems PCOC is going through. From failing to seat the City of Bartow's duly appointed representative on it's board of directors to the taste of improprierity when the agency's Executive Director accepted a free trip to Las Vegas after PCOC signed a no-bid contract for a printer/fax/copier to billing the federal government up to six times the actual amount it should cost to repair a parking lot at one of it's Head Start centres, the agency has a lot of baggage.

Now the Ledger tells us yet more.

It seems as though it's double billing the feds for janitorial services to it's Head Start centres. PCOC leases several of it's larger Head Start centres from it's own property-owning corporation, Heartland Economic Development Authority, and the lease calls for janitorial services to be included in the agreement, paid by HEDA. However, in December PCOC signed a contract with a Bartow company to provide such services to it's 17 Head Start centres --- including those covered in the HEDA lease --- and it's resource centre in Bartow.

PCOC had originally signed a contract for janitorial services that it bid out last March, but fired the company several months later alleging poor service. The December contract was not bid out as required by federal regulation, and officials with PCOC allege it didn't have to be citing the original March bidding. The feds say it has to be rebid every time.

Not only that, but the Bartow-based company, Bembry Cleaning Services, had dissolved two months prior to the $84,000 deal signed in December. The deal with Bembry was the work of Head Start Director Bessie Armstrong, who asked the PCOC board to make it happen. Bembry was one of the bidders for the original contract.

As the saying goes, if it ain't one thing, it's another. And it really saddens me because I really appreciate a lot of what PCOC does. My children both went through it's Head Start programme, and their mother (now deceased) was very active at the Winter Haven centre. There just seems to be a culture within their administration in Bartow not to follow the rules and some of it smells of improprierity. And that, my friends, is a real shame.


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