City fails to use federal grant for anti-gang effort in schools

By Patricia Meade

The police chief said the grant couldn’t be used as intended.

YOUNGSTOWN — A city councilwoman is questioning why the city did not use a $66,000 grant it received for an anti-gang program for middle school pupils.

In August 2007, the city was awarded a federal Bureau of Justice Assistance Gang Resistance Education and Training grant of $66,761 for use in the 2007-08 school year, with a local contribution of $7,418, records show.

Mayor Jay Williams said the grant required him to hire a police officer but because of finances in the midst of a deficit that might have required layoffs, he didn’t want to hire an officer.

The city has an application in for a GREAT grant of $71,360 with a local contribution of $7,928 for the 2008-09 school year that, if awarded, would be made known this month. If awarded, the money would be available in January.

Williams said he is confident the city will get the grant. He said the city is still in a dire financial condition but a police officer will be hired so the grant can be used. He said it’s the same grant just a different grant year.

Patrolwoman Dorothy Johnson was assigned as the GREAT officer and attended training March 2-14 in Philadelphia.

No GREAT instruction was given in city schools after Johnson was trained in March or at the beginning of this school year.

On Sept. 9, Police Chief Jimmy Hughes ordered that the 2007-08 grant be closed out. No funds were expended, records show.

“When I heard I was kind of upset. I couldn’t understand why we [didn’t use it] with the problems in the schools,” said Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti, D-4th. “I thought the city should be more proactive and then I heard we do have a grant but it was returned because there was no one to implement it.”

The councilwoman said she thinks that not using the grant money doesn’t reflect well on the city.

Like Williams, Hughes said Thursday that he did not use the GREAT grant because it required him to hire a new officer. He said he wasn’t comfortable hiring a new officer with only a one-year grant because of the city’s financial condition and the possibility of layoffs.

He said Johnson was excited to be picked as the GREAT officer and could implement the program in January if the new grant is awarded.

Hughes said that after Johnson finished training, it was too late schedule the 13-week anti-gang program before schools let out in June. He said she didn’t go into the schools in September and there was no way to spend the grant money by November as required. Hughes also said he didn’t want to violate the terms of the grant by having Johnson implement the program without hiring a new officer.

The chief said he asked that the grant money, which had to be spent by next month, be carried over into 2009 but was denied.

He’s confident the city will receive a GREAT grant for 2008-09.

Johnson could not be reached to comment.

Effective Sept. 16, Hughes transferred Johnson from the Family Investigations Services Unit, a weekday day shift assignment dealing primarily with domestic violence cases, to the patrol division. Johnson’s new assignment alternates shifts — two weeks of afternoon turns (1 to 9 p.m.) followed by two weeks of night shifts (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) and includes weekends.

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