The Truth of The CAO…

One day… some years ago now… I arrived at a community function frazzled and annoyed. The program had yet to begin, so I joined a circle of friends to vent my lingering road rage. Why, why, why were drivers required to stop in every direction for school buses at all times, especially when some students were teens, and others were smaller, but weren’t crossing the street?  L. Nathan Hare, CEO of the Community Action Organization walked over to boast that it was he who had personally lobbied for that traffic law to be enacted in New York State. He explained that children were unpredictable, likely to dart out into traffic at any time. Requiring all cars to stop for school buses was the best way to prevent more tragic deaths of children. “I want our kids to be safe,” he said. I noted that he hadn’t said: “the kids.” “He said: “our kids.” He took ownership of them – and personal responsibility for their lives.

     This is the incident that comes to mind as the Buffalo News continues it’s hit job on the CAO, digging deeper and reaching back further to find more and more “nothing” to sensationalize and demonize in its relentless propaganda campaign on behalf of … somebody. When a three year-old child wandered outside a Niagara Falls Head Start facility with friends and their parents, the CAO responded aggressively with staff training, door alarms, new security protocols and video surveillance that increased security at all of its sites, not just that one. The organization paid a fine and fired the two teachers responsible during the incident. State regulators were satisfied with the response, and cleared the re-opening of the site. The meticulous attention to the seriousness of this incident doesn’t surprise me, knowing what I do about the heart of Nate Hare for our children. Reframing this incident as one of salacious neglect is utterly profane.   

     The story is the same for all the issues raised in this smear campaign, which, despite efforts to the contrary, has exposed a picture of a large organization encountering occasional missteps that have been handled effectively and professionally when discovered. Head Start teachers without required credentials were provided tutoring and classes through partnerships with Buff State and ECC, and Federal reviewers have confirmed they’re satisfied. They’re satisfied with the CAO’s handling of record keeping issues that surfaced in 2010. Yes. 2010. Federal officials were also satisfied with safeguards implemented to address bookkeeping issues from yesteryear. Even current hyperbolic ranting has been disproven. Auditors contacted by disgruntled former CAO board members to conduct a forensic audit have confirmed what L. Nathan Hare has said repeatedly: that they never started an audit. There was no effort to fire troublesome board members to stop an audit that didn’t exist. It was those board members’ own accusations that sparked the CAO’s self-examination, which uncovered the fact that six – not just these four members were improperly seated. Board members who weren’t in favor of Mr. Hare’s dismissal as CEO were released in order to comply with CAO by-laws. Moreover, an unlawful firing could be taken up in a court of law – but it isn’t, is it? That’s because it wasn’t unlawful.

     The Buffalo News has no credibility in this politically motivated persecution. In its March 26th editorial: “Byron Brown has a Problem,” the paper just comes on outta the bag and exposes the plot to sully the Mayor by criminalizing the CAO, and presenting the two as peas in a pod.  The writers attach the CAO to the complaint of a developer who’s ticked with Mayor Brown over a hiring issue. The problem? Brown has also prevailed in court – twice – leaving the paper in the same position as with the CAO: attempting to drown the two in a deluge of sinister propaganda which it hopes to sanctify with time and repetition.

     It seems the stress of this diabolical campaign is taking its toll. Both language and tactics are devolving in the prolonged effort to prop up such a colossal crusade with so little. The simple act of using security guards at board meetings is now described as an “implied threat of violence,” and using “firearms to keep the public at bay.” The writers stoop to name-calling and insulting innocent Head Start children with the line: “…our Head Start program needs to be in the top 10 percent, not a bottom feeder.”

     Of course, fear and trepidation may be settling in as the FBI, Attorney General, congress and other agencies who’ve been whipped up to pile on – turn their attention to those doing the whipping, who know better than anyone that there’s nothing here. State and Federal regulators throughout this operation have confirmed repeatedly…that there’s nothing here. Former board member Jennifer Shank’s latest “concern,” that “grant money devoted to Head Start and Early Head Start was being diverted to other CAO “ needs has been refuted by the department of Health and Human Services. HHS has completed its review of both fiscal and program operations, and notified the CAO on February 6th that there are no unresolved findings; no corrections needed. The closed board meetings that these folks keep whining about are not required to be open. And why should they open the door to a damn wolf? What self-respecting organization wouldn’t take steps to ensure the orderly conduction of its meetings? By now it’s crystal clear that disparate fragments of rumor, innuendo, conspiracy and outright lies are no match for the rock-solid competence and integrity that is the Community Action Organization under the leadership of L. Nathan Hare.