After-school program's handling of grant money draws criticism

Ellicott City church records of spending poor, audit says

January 15, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A small, defunct, church-sponsored after-school homework program for low-income Ellicott City children and their parents has been criticized for poor money management in a Howard County audit.

The Ellicott City Neighborhood Partnership, promoted and sponsored by the Rev. John Carter of New Zion Center of Hope Methodist Church, was cut off from county money in April after complaints from residents at Hilltop Housing, the county's public housing complex, and from county workers trying to monitor the program.

The "Homework Club" and "Proud Parents" efforts received $17,500 in state and county money over the past two years, and about $10,000 more from private sources. But church officials could not produce records to account for which funds were used for which purposes, or specifically show whether the programs were doing what they were advertised to do, concluded county auditor Ronald S. Weinstein, who released his office's report this week.

The county withheld $2,500 from one grant after the complaints surfaced. No new grants were approved.

"The Ellicott City Neighborhood Partnership had very poor recordkeeping and very poor accountability from those working for the partnership and those receiving payments from the partnership," according to the report.

Several checks were returned, incurring bank charges, and funds from several sources were mingled in the same account, making it impossible to tell what funds were used for what purposes.

In October 2001, the partnership hired a consultant to run the programs, but the audit said "there was very little documentation showing what she did," or on the field trips the children and parents were supposed to take. "It is not clear which services the consultant actually performed."

Although Carter has been an advocate for the services his church offered, he said the program is no longer in existence.

"I agree with the audit. We have work to do in cleaning up our internal structure," he said, adding that he was relieved that the audit "showed no misappropriation of money."

Carter, who endorsed Steven H. Adler, Robey's GOP opponent, for county executive last year, said his program's troubles were "the background" for his action, though he believes Adler was the better candidate.

"They [county officials] singled us out a little bit. The county took the side of the people who were trying to hurt us," he said. "We want to see the condition of the children improve. We endeavored too much."

Manus O'Donnell, director of the Department of Citizen Services, which oversaw the county grant, said "people are often very passionate about their ideas. We have to be careful not only to fund passionate ideas, but substantive programs."

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