Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Center to appeal funding cutoff

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Northern Kentucky Community Center officials say they will appeal a decision by the United Way & Community Chest to cut off funding to the troubled agency.

        The United Way gives the community center $171,167 — nearly half of its annual $360,000 budget.

        In recent months, the community center has been criticized for poor record keeping, nonpayment of bills and weak administration.

        Located in the heart of Covington's African-American community in the former Lincoln Grant School, the private, nonprofit agency provides recreational programs for youths, as well as direct services to low-income families.

        “Obviously, we cannot have the programs that are dependent on United Way funding in the future,” Rollins Davis, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Community Center, said Tuesday. “But we have no intentions of selling this building, or shutting down what we do here at the center.”

        Since they learned of the United Way's decision last Thursday, Mr. Davis and Cliff Cooper, chairman of the community center's board of directors, said center officials have been exploring potential solutions, which they are not yet at liberty to discuss.

        Both said the center will appeal the United Way's decision to cut its funding. They have until June 15 to do so.

        “Right now, our No. 1 goal is to keep the Northern Kentucky Community Center open,” Mr. Cooper said. “No. 2 is to bring more money in, and No. 3 is to be self-sufficient.”

        In March, the center's board removed Mr. Davis from overseeing the center's financial affairs until further notice, but stated he was not under investigation for wrongdoing. Since then, two different board members have served as the center's treasurer, with authority to sign checks.

        Northern Kentucky Community Center audits from 1994 to 1998 — released in response to a request by the Enquirer — stated that no material findings indicated misappropriation of funds.

        “Mr. Davis' expertise is in programs,” Mr. Cooper said. “We need a financial officer, which basically we cannot afford.”

Symbol of heritage
        Activist Pat Fann, who heads a group of Mr. Davis' supporters known as Friends of the Community Center, said the center is an important symbol of Covington's African-American heritage, in addition to providing valuable services to the surrounding community.

        “The community is in an uproar about what is happening to the community center,” said Ms. Fann.

        “Our community is saying that this building needs to stay in the hands of black people,” Ms. Fann said. “We're not willing to relinquish the control of that building and that agency to anyone else.”

        The United Way's decision was made as part of its regular examination of the agencies that it funds, said Carol Aquino, a spokeswoman for the charity. In the community center's case, she said funding was cut because of management practices and the center's inability to produce outcomes, or show what it's accomplished with its programs.

        Northern Kentucky Community Center programs funded by the United Way include emergency assistance, housing development assistance, emergency shelter and youth development.

        Beginning with the 1996 funding cycle, United Way agencies have been required to demonstrate measureable outcomes with their programs. To help agencies meet that requirement, Ms. Aquino said the United Way provided technical assistance and training to participating agencies.

        In the community center's case, Ms. Aquino said center leadership, including Mr. Davis, received training on the United Way's accountability measures.

        Since word of the United Way's decision began circulating, Ms. Aquino said that she has been contacted by concerned clergy from Covington.

        “If there are some emergency needs at the moment, we certainly are going to be helping with those,” Ms. Aquino said. “We are not leaving East Covington without services.”

Area still served
        Ms. Aquino said the funding that would have been allocated to the Northern Kentucky Community Center in fiscal year 2002 has been set aside as the United Way explores ways to continue serving residents of East Covington.

        She said a series of community forums will be held soon to determine what services are most needed.

        “After we have gathered that information, we will be sending out requests for proposals,” Ms. Aquino said. “I can't give a definite timetable, but we plan to move quickly.”

        Ms. Aquino said the Northern Kentucky Community Center would not be excluded from applying.

        The Northern Kentucky Community Center is one of three agencies to have United Way funding withheld for the 2002 fiscal year, Ms. Aquino said. The Norwood Service League and the Fayetteville Child Care — both child-care providers in Ohio — are being defunded because they failed to meet national accreditation standards for child care, she said.

        “Generally, it is more typical that we would defund a program, not a full agency,” Ms. Aquino said. During the past 20 years, she estimated the United Way has stopped funding 15 to 20 agencies for various reasons.

        Word that the United Way plans to discontinue funding the community center in the fiscal year that begins July 1 comes just weeks after other bad news.

        In a May 1 letter, the United Way warned Mr. Davis that the agency would forfeit its May and June allocations, about $30,000, if it did not provide a routine financial audit of the center's 1999 operations by June 30.

        The 1998 audit that the United Way had sought since September was provided in April.

        A letter from Gerard J. Roerty, a retired P&G accountant from the Executive Service Corps who reviewed the center's finances, told Mr. Rollins that “fiscal controls were lacking and need major improvement.” Mr. Roerty recommended the center reconcile its monthly bank statements as they are received, keep its check register current, keep a log of all cash receipts, track revenues and expenses of its Snack Shop and develop quarterly forecasts of cash requirements.


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