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Youngstown's CDA director takes long-overdue action



Published: Sat, September 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Jay Williams, director of the Youngstown Community Development Agency, is to be commended for reviewing the spending practices of entities that receive federal dollars from city government, but we have to wonder why such reviews weren't conducted as a matter of course over the years.

Our query is prompted by the following comment from Joe Lordi, director of Gleaners Food Bank, which was found to have incorrectly spent $36,108 in fiscal years 1999-2000 and 2000-01: "I don't really know what to say. We've done it that way for 15 years."

And how did Gleaners spend the money it received from the community development agency? Without any guidelines or restrictions, the review by Williams shows. And because of virtually non-existent record keeping and questionable practices by Gleaners, the city of Youngstown faces repaying the $36,108 to the federal government.

While it might not appear to be a significant amount compared to the $5.2 million Youngstown received in CDA block grants from Washington, consider this possibility: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could demand a review of spending by recipients going back years. After all, if a seven-month review turned up problems with Gleaners, the federal government could conclude that a more extensive probe is justified.

Repayment

The city has cut off funding to the food bank, but repayment of the $36,108 must come out of the general fund, which already is experiencing revenue declines. City government has a responsibility to go after Gleaners for the money. In doing so, the administration of Mayor George M. McKelvey and city council may be confronted with the reality that previous CDA directors knew of Lordi's failure to keep records and did nothing about it.

Williams' review shows that Gleaners, which collects and distributes food to the needy, placed the federal grants it received from the city and other funds into one account. That commingling of money makes it impossible for the city to trace how the CDA money was spent.

The CDA director also says that Lordi used the account for what appears to be personal expenses. CDA documents show dozens of checks for mortgage payments, doctor and dentist bills, auto loan and insurance payments and more. All are traced back to Lordi and his family.

Given that questions are being raised about the use of taxpayer dollars, the mayor should ask the city prosecutor's office to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted. The personal use of public money is a crime.

Lordi denies that he used city money for personal expenses, but in light of Williams' findings, we believe a comprehensive investigation is warranted.




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