Evergreen Foundation needs to be reined in

It is past time someone looked closely at just what is going on with the Evergreen Foundation, because apparently those in control of a whole lot of what should be public assets have strayed very far from their original mission.

The nonprofit Evergreen Foundation was established way back in 1977 as a sister organization to the Smoky Mountain Center. Its mission is to bolster mental health and substance abuse services in the mountain region, and it carried that out by being the property holding agency for Smoky Mountain. At that time, state mental health entities like Smoky Mountain could not own property, so the foundation took possession of facilities like the Smoky Mountain Center in Webster and other facilities. It rented them back out to mental health and substance abuse providers.

According to Evergreen officials, the nonprofit has almost $20 million in assets. According to a recent audit, at least $14.5 million in state and county funds have flowed into the foundation over the years.

The Evergreen Foundation has its own board and is led by Executive Director Tom McDevitt. McDevitt was pressured to resign as director of Smoky Mountain in September 2008 amid revelations about his large salary, his family members profiting from work for Smoky Mountain, and because he was earning a salary of $42,000 from Evergreen Foundation while, according to records, performing only eight hours per week work for it.

In March 2009, Evergreen board members told The Smoky Mountain News that on Jan. 1, 2009, McDevitt was awarded a two-and-a-half-year contract of $308,724 to operate the Evergreen Foundation. That amount was for general administration, accounting, budgeting, and investment coordination, as well as overhead. McDevitt’s own salary would comprise most of the budget, but what portion is not clear.

Now, members of the Smoky Mountain Center board and its executive director want answers about what the Foundation is doing with its assets, and they also want the Foundation board members to be appointed by the board of the Smoky Mountain Center. SMC Executive Director Brian Ingraham said: “We are talking about state funds that now exist within an organization that has no affiliation within Smoky Mountain Center and chooses to do so whatever they want with it.”

The SMC board has asked the state attorney general’s office to look into the situation, and county boards in all seven counties in the SMC original coverage area are expected to pass resolutions asking that the Evergreen Foundation come back under the control of the Smoky Mountain Center board. Let’s hope this can happen without a nasty legal battle. It is past time to rein in what has become a renegade foundation.

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