White House cannot allow crucial city agency to close

Now that the Mahoning- Youngstown Community Action Partnership has exhausted its judicial appeals with regard an $877,547 reimbursement demand from the Ohio Department of Education, intervention by the White House appears to be the only card left for this important agency to play.

Although the state education department is seeking the repayment, the money originated from the U.S. Department of Education, which means it would have ultimate responsibility to ensure the proper expenditure of federal funds. And, given that MYCAP was cleared of wrongdoing by the Ohio Department of Education after a yearlong investigation and there were no findings of misappropriation of the $877,4547, Washington should give MYCAP the benefit of the doubt.

Agency officials have argued that a lack of adequate record-keeping by the previous management team, led by former Director Richard Roller, caused the state to seek the refund. The state education department contended that the money was not spent according to the terms of the Summer Feeding and Child and Adult and Feeding programs administered by MYCAP. It never said the money was misappropriated.

Therefore, if this is purely a matter of poor record-keeping, is it necessary to take such a hard line, the result of which would be for the agency to close its doors? We think not — considering all the services being provided to a segment of the population that needs them the most.

MYCAP does not have the nearly $900,000 to reimburse the state — and by extension the federal government — and it does not have the ability to raise money. It cannot use any other grants to make good on the demand.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, met with representatives of the agency to go over the case, and while there was some hope of a favorable resolution, Brown and Ryan could not make any commitments. Those must come from the Obama administration. The president cannot be blind to the challenges confronting the city of Youngstown, with its declining population, high poverty rates, especially among inner city residents, an unstable tax base, deteriorating neighborhoods and a persistently high crime rate. The national economic downturn has been particularly hard on the city, which is why MYCAP and other such agencies are so essential. They serve an under served population.

No one is arguing that MYCAP is without blame. In late 2009, when the state was conducting its investigation, the focus was on the misuse of funds, nepotism, conflict of interest and a number of other issues, including weatherization work done on Roller’s house. He, along with others on the management team, were fired.

Roller hired his brother, Jason, as food service manager, and two of his cousins and his daughter were also on the payroll, as were other close family members.

Employment agency

How could a public entity funded by the taxpayers become an employment agency for members of one family? It’s a question that residents continue to ask. The board of directors of MYCAP is ultimately responsible for the operation of the community service agency and it seems inconceivable that no one was aware of the nepotism.

That said, the agency was cleared of wrongdoing.

MYCAP is now under new management, with Marilyn J. McDaniel as the executive director, and David N. Waggoner as the fiscal director. They have brought a level of professionalism that was lacking.

Against this backdrop, we believe the Obama administration should give the agency a chance to prove that it has changed.

With the 10th District Court of Appeals affirming an earlier decision by the Franklin County Common Pleas Court that the $877,547 reimbursement demand is not within the court’s jurisdiction, it is up to the state and federal education departments to ultimately decide.

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