Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH—U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, a Warren County Democrat and also chairman of the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation, helped the foundation obtain a lease on a 35-acre former prison site.
The five-year lease for $1 per year has an option for the foundation to renew for another five years. It is dated May 25, 2001, and signed by Gov. Mike Easley and by Hyman Vice President Helen Ophelia of Rich Square. The foundation, based at Greenwood Baptist Church in Warrenton, runs substance abuse programs. It has yet to use the property.
Records also show that the state had planned to lease the surplus property, known as the former Warren County Correctional Facility, to Warren County, which was going to sublease it to Citizens for Animal Protection, a Warren County-based nonprofit that planned to use it as an animal shelter.
“We had already signed a lease with Warren County and spent six days cleaning buildings before Ballance made a phone call scrapping the deal,” Susan Blaylock, a member of the group, told Carolina Journal. Files in the State Property Office show that property officials frequently contacted Ballance, a lawyer, about the lease.
Citing an “action of the State,” Warren County backed out of the agreement with the animal-protection group in October 1999. In January 2000 the foundation’s executive director, Eddie Lawrence, wrote Correction Secretary Theodis Beck asking for the property. In October 2000, Beck recommended that the property be turned over to the foundation. Beck did not respond to phone calls from CJ requesting comment on his original decision to lease the property to the foundation.
State Property Office Director Joe Henderson told CJ that his office will review the lease arrangement because the foundation is not using the property and apparently has no funding. The lease agreement was approved by the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations Committee on Nov. 15, 2000. Ballance served on the committee, attended the meeting, but abstained from voting on the matter.
The foundation has received almost $2 million in state funds since 1994, mostly through the Department of Correction. The department cut off funding earlier this year because the nonprofit failed to turn in adequate financial records. Lawrence recently said programs are to be shut down this month because the organization no longer has any income.
The State Auditor’s Office is investigating the foundation and a report is expected to be released this week.
Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.