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Forsyth commissioner accused of stealing NAACP grant money
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Forsyth commissioner accused of stealing NAACP grant money

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Arnita Miles, a community activist and former Winston-Salem police officer, publicly demanded on Thursday that Forsyth Commissioner Tonya McDaniel resign from office, alleging that McDaniel had put $47,000 in grant money meant for the Winston-Salem NAACP into her personal bank account. McDaniel is the second vice-president of the local NAACP.

No criminal charges have been filed against McDaniel, and neither the local NAACP nor Blueprint NC, which provided the grant money, has called for a criminal investigation. A spokeswoman with the Winston-Salem Police Department did not respond late Thursday to a question of whether the police department has opened an investigation.

The Rev. Alvin Carlisle, past president of the Winston-Salem chapter of the NAACP, said late Thursday that he had no knowledge that a grant request had been made on behalf of the chapter and that he and the executive committee never approved such a request. Carlisle was president of the Winston-Salem NAACP from 2016 to 2020.

Officials with Blueprint NC said they approved a grant request from what they believed to be the Winston-Salem NAACP and that the request met their criteria. They said they have not seen any evidence that the money was misappropriated.

Miles spoke during the public-comment period of the county board meeting and called on commissioners to meet in closed session to discuss the allegations. She then spoke directly to McDaniel, who sat just feet in front of the speaker’s stand.

“County Commissioner Tonya McDaniel, resign today,” Miles said as she concluded her comments to the board.

McDaniel did not respond to the remarks, and said when the meeting ended that she had no comment.

McDaniel, who is one of two county commissioners elected from District A, came to the board in 2018 after she and Fleming El-Amin emerged from the May Democratic primary with their party nominations. The two were unopposed in the general election. McDaniel replaced Everette Witherspoon, who was convicted last year on federal tax-fraud charges and was sentenced to a year in prison.

McDaniel’s current term runs through 2022.

Commissioners took no action on Miles’ demand that the board consider the allegations. County Attorney Gordon Watkins said after the meeting that because the allegations don’t involve county funds, “that would not be something that the board would address.”

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Earlier in the day, Miles had sent an email to commissioners outlining the allegations. She wrote that McDaniel had applied for three public grants from a group called Blueprint NC on behalf of the local NAACP chapter. Blueprint NC is a network of 41 nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations across the state dedicated to equity and social justice issues, according to the group’s website.

Miles alleged that McDaniel received $47,000 from the group. According to Miles’ letter, McDaniel deposited the money into her personal account without the knowledge of the local NAACP president, giving the money to her friends and taking it for her own personal use. In a follow-up email, Miles said she has received information from people and groups that received money from McDaniel.

“Commissioner McDaniel’s actions are unethical and illegal,” Miles wrote to the commissioners. She said she had also made the Forsyth County Democratic Party aware of the allegations.

Serena Sebring, executive director of Blueprint NC, and Emelia Cowans-Taylor, the group’s spokeswoman, said Blueprint NC did award a grant of about $46,000 to the Winston-Salem chapter of the NAACP in late 2020. The money was to go toward setting up election protection programs in Winston-Salem during last year’s election. Sebring said election protection programs are community safe spaces set up at polling sites during early voting and Election Day to deal with voter suppression, provide water and answer people’s questions about the voting process.

Sebring said that the application from the Winston-Salem NAACP met all the qualifying criteria for the grant, including that the local agency had the volunteer and paid staff to pull off the program. Based on documents sent to Blueprint NC, the grant money was accounted for and there was no evidence that the money had been misappropriated, Sebring and Cowans-Taylor said Thursday.

Sebring and Cowans-Taylor said they could not identify the person who applied for the grant on behalf of the NAACP.

About 10 days ago, Blueprint NC officials were made aware that there were questions about the grant and got into contact with Winston-Salem NAACP.

“We are conducting an internal audit,” Sebring said, adding that officials were satisfied that the money was appropriately spent.

Carlisle said Thursday he wrote a letter, dated May 18, to the chapter’s executive committee.

“It has come to my attention that grant funding was obtained during my tenure as President from Blueprint NC, on behalf of the WS/FC NAACP,” Carlisle writes in the letter

Carlisle said in the letter that neither he nor the chapter’s executive committee vetted or approved the grant request, and he said he had no knowledge of it. He also said that he and the executive committee did not approve any opening of new bank accounts.

“No grant money of that amount passed through the NAACP during my tenure,” Carlisle said in a brief interview Thursday.

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