Red Cross responds to '60
by Lenny Roberts
The CBS telecast of "60 Minutes" last Sunday night
may be just not what the doctor ordered.
The American Red Cross was slammed by senior reporter Mike Wallace,
who questioned the spending habits of the nation's leading help
organization based on reports that many wildfire victims in San
Diego County received little or no help from their local chapter,
and much of the millions of dollars people thought they were
giving to the Sept. 11 disaster victims have not yet and may
never reach the surviving families.
"It's unfortunate that the America Red Cross has made a
couple of major mistakes over the course of the last 12 years,
but it's more unfortunate that '60 Minutes' chose to focus on
three problems instead of hundreds of thousands of disaster responses
that we have responded to," said Jason Smith, chief operating
officer of the American Red Cross of Ventura County.
According to Smith, the A.R.C. typically responds to 67,000
calls each year - only 40 to 60 of which occur in Ventura County,
despite the county being ranked 75th out of the top 1,000 chapters
in the United States.
"The overwhelming majority of victims we serve are incredibly
grateful for the service we provide," Smith said.
Smith said it's too early to use the word 'improprieties' when
describing the alleged questionable activities of Red Cross spending
procedures. "I wouldn't use that term,; it's too soon,"
Smith said, adding that "disaster relief is incredibly difficult
business of trying to bring order to chaos, and occasionally,
we make mistakes."
Dodie Rotherham, the head of the San Diego chapter who refused
to comment on "60 Minutes," reportedly earned $309,000
in salary and bonuses last year.
"That salary plus bonuses is out of line with typical Red
Cross practices," Smith said. "While local salaries
are private matters, I can assure Ventura County residents that
that salary structure within Ventura County is not even on the
The Ventura County chapter operates on income of $1.3 million
a year. For the fiscal 2002, which ends June 30, $155,000 has
been received from the United Way, which also has had its operating
procedures questioned in recent years. The balance of donations
come from private and corporate contributions, grant finding
and cost recovery for courses taught in First Aid and cardio-pulmonary
resuscitation. Although Smith acknowledged the active support
of the United Way as most appreciated, he noted that over the
span of the last 10 to 15 years, The American Red Cross of Ventura
County's funding by the United Way has plummeted from 80 percent
to the current 15 percent of its operating budget.
There is no set amount of funding allocated by the Ventura County
chapter for each community, but the organization strives to guarantee
volunteer response teams throughout the county whenever and wherever
"One of the largest disaster relief operations of the year
was the Pierpont Cottage fire on Thacher Road. Ensuring effective
service in the Ojai Valley is going to remain a major priority
of the American Red Cross of Ventura County."
Five years ago, a disclaimer was added to all Red Cross news
releases and advertising, informing the public that contributions
made following a disaster may be used to aid victims of other
disasters. The truth in advertising was mandated by the governing
board of the American Red Cross. Smith said, however, "It's
important to note that if a donor chooses to reserve a donation
for a particular relief operation, we will always honor that
The county's chapter is audited by the national board each summer
at the start of a new fiscal year. In addition, as one of the
nation's top 100 chapters by population served, an external audit
is submitted quarterly, reflecting the previous fiscal year.
Smith, who took command of the Ventura County chapter in May
2001, served as director of public relations for the San Francisco
Bay Area chapter. He said he is not anticipating a shortfall
for this fiscal year, but is concerned about the donation level
over the next several months.
"I see this as an important time to educate our community
about the scope of services that are provided right here at home,
and through that education, we trust that the community will
still continue to support our work," he said.
"The best way for us to limit the national impact of a negative
story is to remain focused on the quality of service right here
at home. I'm almost proud to say the American Red Cross is much
better at helping people than it is at defending itself in the
Smith welcomes community response, and may be reached at 339-2234,
Ext. 238 during normal business hours.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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