Morning Read: ComLinks, once a leading social service non-profit, close to shutting down

Years ago, when I was relatively new in the North Country, I joined former ComLinks director Nancy Reich on a visit to North Creek, where she met with then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to talk about a new affordable housing program.

ComLinks, in those days, was one of those multi-service nonprofit social agencies that seems to have a hand in just about everything, from gleaning to home winterization to the construction of affordable housing and domestic abuse.

Last summer, Comlinks cut distribution of food from its Malone warehouse to communities west of Massena.

But Reich was fired in 2010, and later pleaded guilty to a single count of grand larceny; and ComLinks has been in a down-spiral ever since.

Today, the Plattsburgh Press-Republican is reporting that the organization may shut down completely as early as the end of summer.

Board President Joe Selenski is using his own money to meet payroll and hopes — as some overdue payments continue to trickle in from Albany — that the doors can stay open until its revenue can get stronger…

“We’re on an austerity budget. We don’t even have the lights on in the building half the time.”

ComLinks is about $200,000 in debt and has been plagued the past two years by theft, mismanagement and incompetence, as well as shrinking grant funding for its surviving programs and the two low-income-housing complexes it manages.

According to the Press Republican, apartment complexes in Saranac Lake and Malone will likely be turned over to management of the Franklin County Housing Council.

The collapse of ComLinks comes at a tough time for the North Country.

The recession stoked the need for assistance for many families, and counties are looking to non-profits (as well as for-profits) to provide more and more services.

So what happens going forward if non-governmental agencies that carry more and more of the “social safety net” load hit a brick wall?  What happens to the folks who were relying on ComLinks?

As always, your comments welcome.

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10 Comments on “Morning Read: ComLinks, once a leading social service non-profit, close to shutting down”

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  1. Larry says:

    Time to turn out the lights the other half of the time; the party has been over for a long time. No matter what good this agency may have done for people, it now stands as an example of corruption, mismanagement and misuse of public money. Is it any wonder that some people don’t want the government to fund social programs like this? How can someone steal $100,000 and only have to pay $1,500 in restitution? It boggles the mind that this program wasn’t shut down immediately.

  2. mervel says:

    Most of the not for profits in the North Country of any size are essentially government subcontractors. The majority of their funding comes from NYS and some federal grants, and a small portion from actual charitable donations.

    The key going forward will be to re-assign these government grants to competent well run organizations, the people will still be served as long as these grants are still in existence.

    The longer that relatively corrupt not for profits take these government grants the worse it is for the people served. So in that sense the best thing for clients would have been that Comlinks would have closed a couple of years ago.

    The fact is a very corrupt leader was allowed to rein for a long period of time with the boards consent, the best thing for clients would be to quickly re-assign any government grants left to better run not for profits.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    Its unfortunate but not uncommon. It seems that these organizations use trust instead of strict accounting/auditing. You read all the time of church treasurers embezzling money. Small business secretaries embezzle money too. Many successful small businesses make sure that it is always a relative of the owner who is handling the cash register.

    Larger businesses and government agencies can presumably afford to keep a better eye on where the money goes.

  4. Marvel says:

    The thing here Pete is that this was all largely govt money.

  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Does it matter whose money is being stolen?

  6. Larry says:

    “Government money” is our money and stealing it is as bad as stealing money under any other circumstances. Human nature being what it is, you can’t throw money at people without keeping a close watch on what they do with it.

  7. Mervel says:

    Pete. No it does not. However in these cases where is the state monitors? Where was the board? Do they have any govt money now? If so why!!!! Also where has the press been?

  8. Walker says:

    Marvel, 11:11 am

    Mervel, is that you?

  9. mervel says:

    Hahaha, no who is that? Yes.

    But this is an issue that is close to my heart, it really hurts all not for profits when you have one that is not a good steward of the money that has been given to them to help people.

    What is annoying is that there were signs for many years that the old ED was a problem. I have not spoken to any comlinks employees or now mainly ex comlinks employees that have anything good to say about her, the warning signs were there but were ignored by the board and by the government contracts that hold the agency afloat.

    This same thing happened in SLC to CAVA, years of problems and a board that wanted to ignore the warning signs.

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    It does hurt all.

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