- Policy & Research
- About KHI
Sept. 14, 2012
TOPEKA The Kansas Department for Children and Families is investigating a severance package recently awarded to Shannon Jones, longtime executive director with the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas.
KHI News Service file photo.
Jones, who’d been with the state and federally funded agency for 18 years, resigned last month.
Her severance package included an amount – roughly $50,000 – equal to 26 weeks’ salary.
“We are investigating reports of some questionable proceedings on the part of the board, hence the forensic audit,” Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman DCF wrote in an email to KHI News Service.
SILCK is a nonprofit agency that advocates for people with disabilities and for the state's various centers for independent living. Its board members are appointed by the governor.
During a meeting of the SILCK board on Friday, board member and former chair Shari Coatney said the agency had only $15,000 in its bank account and that its executive committee was contemplating bankruptcy.
Board members did not discuss the propriety of having enough money for a severance package and not enough money to continue operating.
Coatney said committee members had been meeting with DCF officials in an effort to restore the group’s funding, which DCF has kept frozen for several months.
The discussions, she said, are complicated by DCF first wanting SILCK to pay back almost $520,000 that DCF auditors at the state agency claim was misspent between 2008 and 2010.
“All we have is $15,000. That’s it,” Coatney said. “We don’t have $520,000.”
Initially, SILCK contested the audit’s findings, Coatney said, but dropped its appeal earlier this month after realizing it would not be able to cover the legal costs of challenging the state in court.
Lou Ann Kibbee, the current president of the board, said the executive committee recently reminded DCF that if SILCK closes its doors, the Rehabilitation Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Education will withhold $1 million in grant monies that Centers for Independent Living (CILs) use to cover their administrative costs.
“If a state doesn’t have an independent living council, the federal money goes somewhere else,” Kibbee said.
Without the grants, she said, the state’s 10 CILs would not have enough money to remain open.
Kibbee and Coatney said their conversations with DCF officials led them to believe the department was unaware of the federal requirements and is now reviewing the regulations.
The current year’s grants expire Sept. 30. “There’s like two weeks left,” Coatney said. “We can’t do anything about the past. We need to be moving forward.”
Coatney, who’s also executive director with Southeast Kansas Independent Living in Parsons, said she thought Jones’ severance package was fair, legal and above board.
“She did a great job,” Coatney said, adding that the board had asked Jones to resign after it appeared that some state officials resisted working with her.
“She didn’t want to leave,” Coatney said. “But she was willing to take one for the team.”
However, two other board members, Sandy Shire, a social worker with Four County Mental Health Center in Independence, and Evie Curtis, an Overland Park banker, said Friday that they thought Jones’ severance package was overly generous.
Even so, neither Shire or Curtis nor any other member of the board proposed asking Jones to return a portion of the payment.
Rep. Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, mentioned Jones’ severance package during a budget committee hearing Thursday.
“I’m not saying it was illegal,” he said Friday. “But it does seem a little exorbitant for such a small program, and from the state’s perspective I think we’d rather see that money spent on services.
“Shannon was hard working and a very effective lobbyist,” Rhoads said. “But I don’t know that it looks right to give her that much severance and then not have anything left.”
Attempts to reach Jones for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.