Editorial: A New Step Forward for County Foundation

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Read the full story below or on the VC Star website.

Anyone who doubts the important role the Ventura County Community Foundation plays in helping the less fortunate in our region should consider its latest efforts. The foundation has contributed more than $1 million to nonprofit groups helping Thomas Fire survivors and is managing a new fund designed to assist undocumented immigrants affected by the fire or Montecito mudslides.

So we were pleased to learn last week in The Star that the state Attorney General’s Office has closed its investigation of the foundation. The state took the foundation to task a year ago for “imprudent” financial practices but determined last month that the group had made all the required corrections.

Established in 1987, the foundation serves as an umbrella group managing about $120 million in charitable assets for various Ventura County groups. It helps set up and manage funds that award grants to the needy and college scholarships to local students, among other causes.

Foundation CEO Vanessa Bechtel discovered and reported the financial problems to the state after taking over in 2015. She deserves much praise for leading the effort to identify and correct the problems.

The state ordered the foundation to better train its board members, hire an expert to review and improve policies and practices, and begin repaying an estimated $1.8 million it failed to earn when putting donor funds in low-interest, money-market accounts. The state also criticized the foundation’s purchase of a new headquarters building.

The foundation spent about $500,000 on legal and accounting experts and more than 1,000 board hours to correct the problems, Bechtel told The Star. It has started repaying the $1.8 million but has a decade to complete that. The attorney general, in a letter to the foundation last month, commended it for voluntarily reporting its investment and endowment concerns and for fully cooperating with the state.

Nearly 10 months ago, we editorialized that the foundation had “solid plans in place to repair the financial issues. What will be more difficult is to repair the damage that the episode has had on the community’s trust in this leading nonprofit entity.”

Although much work remains, we believe the closing of the state investigation is another positive step toward rebuilding that trust. And it came at an opportune time as the foundation plays a leading role in the county’s recovery from the Thomas Fire.

The new fund it will manage, called 805 Undocufund, was created by several nonprofit groups to help immigrants who lost their homes or jobs and are excluded from many government relief programs. To learn more, visit 805undocufund.org.

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