Turmoil hits antipoverty group as report questions contracts

Headshot of Sharon Myles

Sharon Myles was fired after a report alleged financial inconsistencies in contracts with five people. Myles denies wrongdoing.

The Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity

A poverty-fighting agency in Alabama’s most populous county has lost its contract to run the county’s Head Start program for disadvantaged preschoolers and is telling local officials that it needs a $3 million cash infusion to avoid going broke after temporarily missing payroll.

The Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity fired Executive Director Sharon Myles on Nov. 1 after a report alleged financial inconsistencies in contracts with five people and that Myles was in a personal relationship with one of the contractors.

Myles denies wrongdoing.

“I know the truth, and I tried to correct difficulties but never had the full support of the board,” she told WBRC-TV.

Photo of Sharon Myles

Jefferson County Committee For Economic Opportunity,Facebook
Taken during the Jefferson County Committee For Economic Opportunity’s 2019 Christmas gala.

However, Board Chairman Gary Richardson, also the mayor of Midfield, tells local news outlets the board has authorized him to file a state ethics complaint against Myles, alleging the misuse of state and federal money.

The federal Head Start program last week told the committee that it’s giving control of the preschool program to another agency. That triggered layoffs for more than 250 Head Start workers in Jefferson County. They can reapply for their new jobs, but there’s no guarantee they will be hired.

The agency’s other main functions are administering utility and rental assistance, and home weatherization projects.

Richardson said Myles was dismissed after unsatisfactorily responding to the allegations. It’s unclear if any outside agency is investigating.

“She maintained total control of this organization,” Richardson said. “She was the Head Start director, the executive director, and the quasi-chief financial officer because she fired two financial officers within a span of a year, and then brought in her own financial consultants.”

The committee wants Birmingham and Jefferson County to give it $3 million to cover its deficit, but local officials are skeptical.

“The county is more concerned about the services it renders for the citizens,” said Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens. “We would be very reluctant to add any money to the JCCEO coffers.”

Outside of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity

The agency shuffled funds after it missed payroll, but Richardson said future paychecks remain uncertain.

The report that triggered Myles’ firing was prepared for the board by attorney Thomas W. Scroggins.

AL.com reports Scroggins told the board that a man named Thompson “Tommy” Nsuk was hired by the committee a month after Myles became executive director. Facilities Director Charlie Vargas, who resigned July 30, said Myles told him that she and Nsuk were in a relationship and planned to get married. Vargas said he was made to report to Nsuk and directed to pick Nsuk up for work at a Gardendale house where Myles lived. Nsuk was paid at least $1,800 a week and sometimes substantially more.

Minutes show Myles told the board that Nsuk and others were hired with federal coronavirus relief money and said Nsuk “is a long-time family friend who she let use her address to receive mail from time to time.”

Another questioned contract was with the Rev. Lawrence Jackson to serve as a behavioral specialist for $5,000 a month. The committee also leased space at Jackson’s church for $10,000 a month. Directors of two Head Start centers said Jackson had done no work, but Jackson said he has done the work, and said that the committee leased spare space from his church.

“I ain’t perfect but, man, but I love my community and if I didn’t think I was qualified for this job, [Myles] couldn’t have made me take it,” Jackson said.

The report also criticized a temporary chief financial officer who was paid nearly $80,000 in a month, a bilingual education specialist who was provided an agency car, and the irregular hiring of Nsuk’ son as a custodian, who was also getting paid $1,859.34 over two weeks, which would translate into 62 hours of work a week.

All five independent contractors were fired on Nov. 1.

News from WBHM will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.


COVID relief funding package passes Alabama legislative committees

A plan to spend about $772 million is set for final passage as early as next week.

UAB surgeons transplant pig kidneys into a human body for the first time

Researchers hope genetically modified pig kidneys could potentially provide a life-saving solution for thousands of people who die every year waiting for a transplant.

Ivey calls special session on relief funds

Alabama lawmakers will put the 2022 regular legislative session on hold to start a special session beginning Jan. 19, according to an announcement by Gov. Kay Ivey.

As demand for travel nurses increases, hospitals in the South struggle to stay competitive

COVID-19 hospitalizations are now twice as high in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama as they were two weeks ago, contributing to now record hospitalization numbers nationwide.

Omicron is less severe, but it’s overwhelming Alabama’s hospitals

The omicron variant leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths, but the variant is infecting more people than any previous surge.

Alabama lawmakers already planning a special session just days into the regular one

Legislators would use the special session to discuss appropriating COVID relief funds. We have more in our weekly legislative update.

More Front Page Coverage