Representatives of the say they've got the message: it's time to smooth out issues with its administration and accounting if it's to continue receiving more than a quarter of a million dollars each year in city funds.
They told the City Council Tuesday night that they will accept a so-called last chance agreement designed to put its finances and governance on track. The city's Human Services Division has said it has found "serious and persistent problems" with the nonprofit, including alleged payroll errors, potential conflicts of interest with the executive director and high turnover on the Board of Directors.
"We do acknowledge that we can grow and learn from this experience," said Selina Rodriguez, Program Director for the Pico Youth and Family Center.
The council directed Human Services Division staffers Tuesday night to move forward with the six-month agreement, under which the city will hire an independent agency to oversee and conduct all of the center's financial operations and a consultant to "provide technical assistance and oversight of" the executive director.
"I want to build an organization that lives beyond my role... that’s a legacy that I want to create," said Executive Director Oscar de la Torre, who’s also an elected member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. "We’ve been so focused on programming, the next step in the next 10 years is to focus on administration and governance."
The possibility that down the line the organization could lose city money if it doesn't shape up, drew a flood of heartfelt testimony from once-troubled teens and adults who said the center had changed their lives for the better.
Santa Monica resident Angel Villasenor said that in his youth he made his "share of mistakes and bad decisions." As a teenager, he lost his brother to a 20-year prison sentence. The first positive influence he had was de la Torre.
"For a time, I was lost, but I had PYFC to help me out," he said.
One Santa Monica mother told the council that it's a "scary time to raise children of color," but the youth center is keeping kids from committing crimes and helping them graduate from high school.
"They’re making a difference, that’s where their heart and soul is," said councilwoman Pam O'Connor. "But they still have to maintain the other parts of the organization."
The Pico Youth and Family Center has been subject to criticism from city staffers before, but this is the first time they have gone so far as to propose pulling the annual grant of $307,532 if benchmarks are not met.
"We’re talking about public funding, there has to be accountability, there has to be compliance with local and federal law," said councilman Kevin McKeown.