Local Red Cross failed to meet rechartering criteria

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   According to Red Cross regional officials, the Carter County chapter of the American Red Cross fell short of re-chartering requirements mandated by the organization. However, the organization did not discuss what those re-chartering criteria are.
   "There are 33 requirements in the re-chartering process," said Hugh Quinn, deputy regional officer for the Red Cross southeast/southwest region in Birmingham, Ala. "It was determined by the regional committee that the chapter did not meet the requirements to be re-charted, and then, Friday, we heard the chapter had decided to close its doors."
   The entire Red Cross Board of Directors resigned after a meeting held last Thursday evening. Chapter Employees Director Leigh McKeehan and Disaster Services Director Natalie Smith resigned on Friday.
   Quinn and Media Relations Associate Stacey Grissom with Red Cross headquarters in Washington spoke to the Star Thursday about the chapter's closure.
   Quinn said the local chapter's director and board of directors had not informed his office of their decision to resign. He said regional Red Cross officials usually work with chapter leadership to transfer operations and services to another chapter before employees and volunteers resign.
   "This is my first experience with this in the southeast," said Quinn of the chapter resignations.
   Grissom said Red Cross services will continue to be available in the community, and, according to Quinn, the Kingsport chapter will be responsible for future needs.
   Quinn said his office began working with the county chapter in December 1999 with hopes of making re-chartering a possibility.
   "Our board of governors, which is our highest volunteer groups, made a decision that all chapters would go through a re-chartering process," he explained. "Initially, there were 2,600 chapters -- after the first round of re-chartering, that dropped to 1300 chapters. Some things they (the chapter) were able to do, and others they were not. We've been working with this chapter for a long period of time."
   When asked what specific requirements the Carter County chapter had not met, Grissom said the re-chartering process involved "internal issues" that the organization could not speak to specifically.
   McKeehan had said that chapter officials asked the Red Cross regional organization to provide them with figures of where county donations were being spent. She said the chapter had been unable to provide the local public with numbers because the chapter had not been given the figures by the regional office.
   However, Quinn said the Red Cross regional office had provided information about the distribution of their donations to the chapter's board of directors.
   Grissom said the Red Cross was honoring donor intent of monetary donations given for specific national disasters.
   However, once those disasters had been funded with enough financial support, the organization notified donors that their contributions would be used through the National Disaster Relief Fund to support other disasters that had overwhelmed the resources of other Red Cross chapters.
   Grissom said once enough money had been received for a local disaster, the Red Cross notified donors of where their donations were needed.
   "Once a disaster's needs have been met, you want to work with the donors to say 'there is an additional need to send you contribution to the general disaster relief fund,'" said Grissom.
   Quinn said his office contacted the Tennessee state office and developed a contract with the Kingsport/Hawkins County Red Cross chapter to provide for emergency services in the Carter County area.
   The Carter County chapter had a previous agreement with the Kingsport chapter to assist the local chapter's after-hours emergency services calls, said Quinn.
   The Red Cross came under criticism regarding the millions of dollars in donations that poured into the organization for relief efforts following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
   The Red Cross established the Liberty Fund shortly after the Sept. 11 tragedies as a separate, segregated account to fund relief services related to terrorism.
   Former Red Cross President Bernadine Healy resigned from the organization in October. She said publicly that she disagreed with "co-mingling of the moneys" collected in the Red Cross "Liberty Fund" set up for the Sept. 11 attacks.
   Grissom said the Red Cross had received a little over $1 billion in donations to the "Liberty Fund" created to provide services and relief for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Thus far, $643 million had committed to assist those most directly affected by the attacks, she said.
   Most of the balance, approximately $133 million, will be spent over the next three to five years to help families with long term needs including health care, mental health and family support services, according to a Red Cross statement released earlier this month.
   Quinn said the option remained open for Elizabethton -- or any community -- to develop a new Red Cross chapter. However, he felt that prospect was dim for Carter County.
   "In the short term, I do not see that as a possibility," he stated. "They would have to complete those 33 chartering requirements."