A WATCHED POT AT THE GREENVILLE CENTER…
It seems to be a pattern with questions about money—especially grant money—involving police department oversight: Ask what happened to the money and get stonewalled.
In this case, the questions are about $339,765 that was awarded in a grant to Mecklenburg County for a controversial program to train gang members with culinary skills.
The grant award was for the NC Dept. of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP) for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Gang of One Program, the Greenville Center Culinary Arts Program. See the link for full details.
In part it explains:
There are two CMPD Gang of One programs that the County assists: the Gang Re-Entry and Intervention Team; and the Greenville Center Culinary Arts Program. This grant award is for the latter. The purpose of the Greenville Center Culinary Arts Program is to assume the operation and maintenance of the center and up-fit the kitchen to support a culinary program for gang -involved juveniles. The intent is not only to encourage the juveniles to pursue a career in the culinary industry but to prepare individuals with job readiness skills for future employment generally. The program also provides a safe environment for learning and a foundation for a productive and fulfilling life.
Media reports and government officials confirmed that $255,457 had already been spent against the grant by early Spring of 2011 on things like a center coordinator, transportation, and job trainers. The problem was, the Greenville Center had not opened at all yet. And the Culinary Program had definitely not begun, since bids were not even complete for renovations until March of 2012.
Who were they driving around? Who was getting paid to do the driving?
Who was coordinating and what were they coordinating?
The final bid for kitchen renovations came in mid-March 2012 for $74,522 but final spending has not yet been confirmed. The work was finished just shy of the grant ending date in June and only three classes were held. None were for job training.
During a Board of County Commissioners meeting, Gang of One Director Fran Cook gave an update telling BOCC members that they did not assign a "kitchen project manager" until mid-year 2012 and that the delay in renovation had "befuddled" the program. She also said only three kitchen programs were held on April 19, May 26, and June 2 for children who were "truly too young for a certification program... 14-16 years of age."
Only 23 young children were involved in these cooking classes, where they learned to make fruit salads, fajitas, and cannoli.
Programs had been touted in advance to be held by Johnson & Wales University culinary school, but at the BOCC meeting, Cook explained they were held by "JCSU chefs” (Johnson C. Smith University). Money was paid merely to individuals at a rate of $56/hour, indicating they were acting as individuals, not as University representatives. Either way, no job training was accomplished ever during the period of the grant.
June 30, 2011, The Charlotte Post reported that
Johnson and Wales University staff agreed to assist Gang of One and city engineers in redesigning the kitchens located in the Center in anticipation of the culinary program. JWU is also assisting Gang of One in the creation of a standardized curriculum for clients and will implement the curriculum. This program will operate as a Saturday Academy.
There’s nothing to identify if Johnson & Wales University, which specializes in Culinary Arts, actually participated in design of the kitchen. And there was no Saturday Academy.
See the full BOCC video from Program Director Cook here, beginning at 1:23:00 (also marked “12-0367 Update on Greenville Center”).
WHAT THE COUNTY BOARD HAD TO SAY
Commissioner Vilma Leake's asked an important question about how much it would cost to do actual job training in culinary arts at other area schools such as CPCC. Director Cook completely sidestepped the question and simply answered they had paid $56/hour for the three sessions held.
Since zero young people have received any job training in the culinary arts as a result of the culinary arts training grant, but approximately 85% of the money has been spent, it seems this may be a problem when time to reconcile the grant. Monthly reports have been required to the state office during the entire period of the grant, up through the end of June, and at that time an annual report is due. So far, nobody will supply any of these important accountability mechanisms. The state office says any spending not in accordance with the grant will have to be returned.
George Dunlap commented to Cook and staff that "you did exactly what we expected you to do."
Commissioner Jennifer Roberts' thanked them for "getting this done so quickly."
NOT A CASE OF ‘ENDS JUSTIFYING MEANS’
While there are arguments to be made for reopening a popular community center in a difficult crime area, the money assigned for that purpose should be used for that purpose.
Most people could come up with a less-expensive way to hold three cooking classes for 23 kids than spending 85% of $339,765 = $288,800 estimated expenditures. That comes out to $12,556 per child. That could buy a decent college education at many places, or at least a good start. It could definitely go farther than fruit salad and cannoli.
Grants over a third of a million dollars should not be nearly used up before a program even begins, with no accountability for how they are spent. It’s not a slush fund.
Where did that money go?
Who received the first $255,457?
So far, none of these people will say for months:
Program Director Fran Cook, Titus Ivory, Commissioners Vilma Leake, Jennifer Roberts, Harold Cogdell, CMPD Major John Diggs, CMPD attorney Mark Newbold, County attorney Marvin Bethune, City Attorney Robert Hagemann.
citynewswatch will keep you posted if there are any updates. Or new recipes.