Wednesday, June 4, 2003

N. Ky. Community Center closes

Utility bills went unpaid; executive director fired

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - The Northern Kentucky Community Center, a long-time non-profit agency in the heart of Covington's African-American community, has locked its doors, had its utilities turned off and fired its executive director.

Rollins Davis, the center's dismissed executive director, did not return phone calls. A recording said the offices for the center were temporarily closed and asked callers to leave a message or write to a post office box.

"The center's on life support right now," said Richard Ross, a board member of the community center. Ross said he missed the last board meeting two weeks ago and did not know the details of the closing. However, Covington Mayor Butch Callery said the center shut down last week because it had no power or water.

Feb. 27, 2002: Center management files a formal complaint against Union, Light, Heat & Power Co., alleging it acted unreasonably in attempts to collect past-due bills once totaling $80,433. The complaint accuses the utility and the United Way of colluding to disconnect gas and electric service in violation of the federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
June 25, 2002: The Public Service Commission dismisses the Community Center's complaint.
July, 2001: It loses $171,167 in United Way funding, or half the center's annual budget, because of management concerns and inability to show what it had accomplished with United Way-funded programs.
October, 2001: United Way re-allocates Northern Kentucky Community Center funds to other agencies serving East Covington residents.
May 20, 2003: The center's board fires executive director Rollins Davis and dismisses board president Cliff Cooper.
Late May, 2003The center is locked and utilities are shut off for non-payment of bills.
Once the home of Lincoln Grant School serving Northern Kentucky's African-American community in the days of segregation, the community landmark at 824 Greenup St. became a social-service agency for East Covington in the 1980s.

"The loss of that building would be like losing someone out of your family because it symbolizes the only African-American School for Northern Kentucky (during) segregation," said long-time Eastside resident Wanda Wilkinson, 50, who attended Lincoln Grant School. "If that building goes into someone else's hands it would be like taking a part of our history from us. I'd just like to see someone get in there with the right type of leadership and really help the community."

For more than two years, the center's management has battled accusations of poor record keeping, non-payment of bills and weak administration.

Records of the community center's May 20 meeting provided to Callery show that the board fired Davis and removed Board President Clifford Cooper after a long, argumentative debate. When a board member called for Davis' dismissal, Cooper shouted, "I'm not honoring that motion."

Treasurer Charles Fann then moved to declare the president's office vacant because of a violation of bylaws, the statement said. The board approved Cooper's dismissal by a vote of 3 to 2.

Neither Fann nor Cooper returned phone calls Monday or Tuesday. A woman who answered Cooper's phone Tuesday said he was out of town.

The latest twist comes nearly two years after the United Way stopped funding the center. Officials cited management concerns and the private agency's inability to show what it had accomplished with United Way-funded programs.

That loss of $171,167 for fiscal year 2002 represented nearly half of the center's budget.

Nearly all of that money has since been allocated to four other programs providing job training, after-school care, substance abuse treatment and emergency assistance and home care for seniors on Covington's Eastside, said United Way spokeswoman Carol Aquino.

"We're in the process of redirecting some $13,000 to some health education programs (for East Covington),'' Aquino said. "I think the key is services are being provided in the community for those folks who are concerned about that."

Since losing its United Way funding, the center has relied on grants, donations and limited federal subsidies. It has run a charitable bingo for the past two years, but that fund-raising effort was recently threatened when the center violated Kentucky Department of Charitable Gaming regulations.

"Their (charitable gambling) license is in good standing, but they were put on six months probation through the department and were required to submit a plan on how they would retain at least 40 percent (of net receipts) in the next calendar year," said John Winstead, commissioner for the Department of Charitable Gaming.

State records show the center lost $5,914.90 on its bingo in 2001, while 46 other Kenton County bingos made money.

After losing its United Way funding in July 2001, the center laid off most of its staff, and recruited volunteers to answer phones and help run programs.

Last week, Callery said he asked Rick Hulefeld, director of the Children Inc. child-care agency, to contact Fann about finding child care for children in the center's day care, when the center's power and water were shut off. The day care, which served 16 preschoolers with the help of federal subsidies, was one of the center's few remaining programs.

Hulefeld said Tuesday he spoke with a community center board member last week and had not yet received details on the children needing child care.

Cinergy spokesman Kathy Meinke said the utility turned the center's power off May 28 after repeated unsuccessful attempts to deal with the agency's delinquent utility bills.

Last year, the center filed a formal complaint against Union Light, Heat and Power Co. with the Public Service Commission, alleging ULH&P acted unreasonably in its attempts to collect past-due utility payments that once totaled as much as $80,433.

The complaint was dismissed.


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