Thursday, May 25, 2000

City extends curfew contract

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Under pressure from a group of ministers, Cincinnati City Council Wednesday reversed a decision on who will manage the city's curfew program and for how long.

        Last week council voted unanimously to extend a contract with a member of the local Baptist Ministers Conference for only 30 days while they looked for cheaper alternatives.

        But Wednesday — after criticism from several ministers — members voted 6-2 to extend it indefinitely.

        “This is another attempt to take away economic development,” said Rev. J.W. Jones of the contract. “Don't play a game with the ministers.”

        Ministers said they were instrumental in setting up the curfew program in 1994 and that it shouldn't be shifted just to save money.

        Councilman Pat DeWine — who cast a dissenting vote with Councilman Jim Tarbell — said a curfew program isn't needed and is so underused that taxpayers are paying about $2,150 for every youth that uses it.

        “It doesn't make sense,” he said. “This is a waste of taxpayer money.”

        In 1999 the city paid about $167,687 for police officers to take curfew violators to a recreation center rather than to a detention center.

        Most of the money was spent to pay for staffing the centers: $61,911 for a full-time police officer; $22,750 to the Citizens Committee on Youth and $30,202 to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

        The rest — about $52,800 — went to Dr. Ardie Brown of the ministers conference to manage the program.

        Council members want to know why the city was spending so much. Public Safety Director Kent Ryan said 88 percent of youngsters picked up between April 1998 and 1999 were taken home instead of to the centers.

        As an alternative, Mr. Ryan suggested using the Lighthouse Center, which can house youths for up to seven days and has counseling programs.

        That caused an instant backlash from ministers who criticized the Lighthouse program. Ministers argued that they are better able to handle the program and are entitled to remain its stewards.

        “Don't take it away like you do everything else,” Mr. Jones said of Mr. Brown's contract.

        In a May 18 memo, Lighthouse President Stanford Williams said he was surprised by comments questioning his agency's integrity, competency and motives.

        “Given the controversy and misunderstanding of our offer to be of service to the city, we belive it would be in the best interest of all concerned for us to withdraw our offer,” he said.

        “Someone who was willing to do this for free was treated so badly they walked away,” Mr. DeWine said.


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