In 2011, when the ohio Depart- ment of Education demanded reimbursement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, two crucial factors came into play:
One, a year-long investigation by the state turned up no evidence of wrongdoing by MYCAP.
Two, there were no findings of misappropriation of the money that originated from the U.S. Department of Education.
Indeed, MYCAP officials contend 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.
Thus the question: Do past bookkeeping glitches that the state acknowledges are the reason for its reimbursement claim justify putting MYCAP out of business?
We certainly don’t think so. The services provided by the agency to a segment of the population that needs them the most are simply too essential to be sacrificed because of past mismanagement and incompetence.
The Ohio Department of Education contends that $793,113 was not spent according to the terms of the Summer Feeding and Child and Adult Feeding programs administered by MYCAP.
To be sure, the agency bears responsibility for what went wrong, starting with Roller being appointed director.
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.
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.
And yet today, MYCAP is in danger of being forced out of business. In an Oct. 1 email, the state education department demanded payment of $793,113 by Nov. 1. Failure to do so would trigger the accrual of interest.
But the ODE isn’t stopping there. State officials want to disqualify MYCAP leaders from the federal food program for children and adults. The feeding program is an integral part of the Head Start preschool program. Without meals and snacks, purchased by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture administered by the state, there would be no Head Start. Grants totaling about $7 million are used to run the program and cover some overhead costs.
MYCAP’s annual budget is $17 million.
Given that the demise of the agency will hurt poor children in Youngstown and Mahoning County the most, why is the state taking such a strong stand? Is there something more to the operation of MYCAP that has caused the Ohio Department of Education to threaten the end of such an important agency?
The public deserves answers before MYCAP is forced out of business.