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Published: Thursday, 8/4/2005

Lucas County ends job-training contract

BY MEGAN GREENWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Horizons Employment Center no longer has a contract to provide job training as part of Lucas County's welfare program, but county officials said that is unrelated to an investigation of the program that led to the recouping of more than $20,000.

Pat Parker, who owns and operates Horizons in the Westgate building on Central Avenue, was the subject of a county investigation after two former employees accused her of altering attendance records to collect funds for people who did not complete the program.

Mrs. Parker has filed defamation lawsuits against the two women, Linda Rice and Claudia Dodds, claiming they turned against her because they disagreed with her policies.

"I don't think that I lived to be 55 to have my life and my reputation ruined like this," Mrs. Parker said.

In a letter to the county's Job and Family Services, Ms. Dodds said she was concerned that Mrs. Parker's policies violated Horizons' contract with the county. That letter prompted the investigation, which Mrs. Parker said caused her business to decline to almost nothing.

"I'm concerned that there are several clients that Horizons Computer Training may have submitted invoices to Job and Family Services for service I didn't provide, but it is indicated that I provided those services," Ms. Dodds wrote.

Ms. Rice, who taught computer classes at Horizons, also wrote a letter to the county office and is named in a separate lawsuit.

She has countersued, claiming Mrs. Parker wrongfully terminated her employment and did not pay her money that she is owed.

"Linda Rice stands behind the letter [that she sent to the county agency] as being the truth," said her attorney, Martin Holmes, Jr. "Every allegation raised in that letter was absolutely true, so a defamation allegation by definition is false."

Horizons remains open as a job training center, but Lucas County no longer refers people to that company as part of the welfare-to-work transition. Mrs. Parker had a one-year contract that expired June 30 and was not renewed, according to Isaac Palmer, director of Lucas County Job and Family Services.

That contract was worth about $900,000 for Mrs. Parker to provide computer training and job referrals.

"She submitted a request, and she was not granted a new contract," Mr. Palmer said.

Mrs. Parker said she expects a decision from Job and Family Services today on a new contract request.

If Job and Family Services turns down Mrs. Parker's request this week, she said she will be forced to close her business. She currently has two people on staff - down from 10 a year ago - and no clients.

"I'm practically out of business now," she said. "I had a wonderful business, and it's basically dead."

Mr. Palmer declined to discuss the investigation of Mrs. Parker's billing practices other than to say that the investigation prompted by Ms. Rice's complaints did not reveal any instances of fraud.

But records show that Job and Family Services personnel did request that Mrs. Parker pay the county $20,892 for what officials called mistakes on invoices submitted to the county.

In the largest individual repayment, agency staff members noted that Mrs. Parker billed the county for $4,100 for training Dareva Dawson and placing her in a job. But Ms. Dawson began a new job four days before Mrs. Parker wrote her eligibility referral, the county found.

Contact Megan Greenwell at:

mgreenwell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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