Meal Service Investigation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We are ‘safety net,’ director says of role in meals service

By Billy Davis

The director of Three Rivers, the Pontotoc-based planning and development district, assured county supervisors Monday that his organization is a reluctant participant in an ongoing state investigation.

“I know nothing about the charges and don’t want to know,” Randy Kelly said of the allegations against Glenn K. Brown, the longtime director of North Delta Planning and Development.

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Brown, 49, now on administrative leave, was removed while investigators probe fraud charges in Meals on Wheels, the food program for the elderly.

Meals on Wheels serves 3,100 recipients in Panola County, according to Supervisor Gary Thompson.

Brown’s arrest follows the March arrest of Yulanda Starling, a North Delta employee who was charged with falsifying documents of Meals on Wheels deliveries.

Starling oversaw Meals on Wheels as a senior case manager for Area Agency on Aging (AAA), the department within North Delta.

North Delta’s associate director, James Curcio, 43, is serving as interim director as the investigation unfolds.  

North Delta’s board of directors placed Brown on leave, and appointed Curcio, at a board meeting last week, said Thompson.

Thompson serves on the board along with fellow supervisors Vernice Avant and James Birge.

Mississippi officials stripped North Delta of the Meals on Wheels on July 1, giving its Panola County contacts to Three Rivers. Brown was arrested that same day at North Delta’s office in east Batesville.

North Delta is moving through an appeals process, with a 15-day deadline, to win back the Area Agency on Aging.  

Officials familiar with the AAA say it is among the most profitable ventures – and hence a huge loss – for a planning and development district.

With the appeals process looming, Curcio also appeared before supervisors Monday, asking for a letter of support from the county board. Supervisors voted unanimously to provide such a letter.  

Although Three Rivers is involved, Kelly described its role as a “safety net” with a single goal: to serve meals twice a week to elderly residents who need them.

“Our total goal is to make sure seniors don’t fall through the cracks,” he said.

If North Delta wins back Meals on Wheels, Three Rivers will happily drop its new role, Kelly told supervisors.  

“Three Rivers is not the aggressor here,” Kelly said. “The state called us.”

Despite the ongoing investigation, Thompson has stressed that other agencies within North Delta Planning continue to function as usual.  

North Delta Planning covers seven counties in northwest Mississippi, most of them in the Mississippi Delta.  

County and municipal governments are most familiar with North Delta’s “program specialists,” who help secure grants and loans for government bodies.

One of the program specialists, Chris Pope, acknowledged the investigation July 6 in Como, when the mayor and board of aldermen convened.

“The office is not going to close,” Pope said. “I’ve got a job to do and I’m going to keep doing my job.”

Pope and city leaders discussed a grant for a town park, a program that builds no-cost homes for the poor, and a grant that pays for town government to upgrade electrical utilities in its municipal buildings.