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July 25, 2016

Financial Questions Trailed Ousted Calif. Foundation Head

The abrupt exit last month of the chief executive of the Central Valley Community Foundation in California came as financial issues about his tenure at a previous community fund came to light, writes The Fresno Bee. Officials with the Fresno-based Central Valley fund said the timing of Hugh Ralston’s departure on June 15 after less than two years on the job was unrelated to reports of fiscal disarray at the Ventura County Community Foundation in Southern California, where he served as CEO for 11 years.

A review by accounting firm KPMG concluded that the Ventura group’s donor-restricted funds were undervalued due to improper management, including excessive administrative fees and investments in low-yield money-market accounts. The foundation is repaying those funds out of other revenue pots. It is also seeking to sell, at a loss, a building it spent $11.3 million to buy and renovate four years ago to house its offices and lease space to other nonprofits. The $132 million grant maker has slashed staff as a result of the setbacks.

After moving to the $53 million Central Valley foundation in October 2014, Mr. Ralston renamed the group, formerly the Fresno Regional Foundation, and oversaw its move to much bigger quarters at more than triple the rent. The foundation also spent $254,000 on outside consultants last year, compared with less than $400 in 2014, and overall administrative costs grew by about 25 percent.

Leaders of the Central Valley foundation said its finances are sound and that the Ventura controversy did not play a part in Mr. Ralston’s exit. They declined to elaborate on the reasons for the separation because it is a personnel matter. The Bee was unable to reach Mr. Ralston for comment.