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WARREN Urban League to be audited



Published: Wed, July 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Employees allege that the league mishandled $78,000 for the Researching Fatherhood Initiative Program.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- The head of the Warren-Trumbull Urban League is on administrative leave after employees aired concerns that nearly $80,000 of state and federal money for one program was improperly spent.

An audit of the local chapter by the National Urban League was to begin today, according to a memo distributed to the staff last week.

The same memo announced that the Warren-Trumbull Urban League's board of trustees had placed president and chief executive officer Thomas S. Conley on leave.

Conley has been president and chief executive officer of the Warren-Trumbull Urban League since 1995. He previously worked as the league's finance director.

The announcements came after a board meeting last month, when employees of the league's Researching Fatherhood Initiative Program raised questions about bookkeeping for their program, which is funded by a $235,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Invoice discrepancies: The employees also presented documents they say show discrepancies between the actual cost for the program and the amount invoiced to ODJFS.

"These are some pretty serious allegations they are making," said Vernon W. Murphy, chairman of the league's board of directors. "We will wait and respond to the allegations based on what is determined by the audit."

Fatherhood program employees say that the Urban League submitted invoices for the full amount of money allotted in the grant application, even when that money had not been spent on services.

For example, ODJFS was invoiced to pay a caseworker's salary for the entire length of the yearlong grant, even though the job was not filled until the grant was half over. Another employee was on maternity leave for two months, but ODJFS was still billed to pay her salary.

"I know exactly how much money we got, dollar for dollar, on this program," said Tanisha Howard, the program's administrative assistant. "They [the Urban League] have billed overpayments on this program."

She calculated that the overpayments totaled $78,000.

Employees are particularly upset because they feel the money could have been used as a cushion to keep their program afloat during a lapse in funding. The program provides job training and counseling to fathers who have not kept up with their financial responsibilities.

Laid off: As it is, the five fatherhood program employees are out of a job. They received notification that they would be laid off two weeks ago, and Warren police were called to escort them out of the building Tuesday morning. A.T. Wade, the Urban League's director of employment and education and the director of this program, was also suspended Monday for insubordination.

Wade, who has worked for the Urban League since 1999, said the suspension resulted from his backing his employees. He wrote the initial grant for the fatherhood program, and said he was confident another grant could be found in the next month or two, if the program is still around.

It is the only program for noncustodial parents in the county, officials say.

Program employees jointly filed a request for a court order to block the Urban League from removing the program from its West Market Street offices. The request was filed in Trumbull County Court shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, and will not come before a judge until Thursday.

siff@vindy.com




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