The Otto Bremer Grant – Where did the money go?

In early 2006, the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC) received a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation for nearly $73,000 to carry out a set of initiatives beautifully crafted by Jennifer Anderson, JACC’s Health Coordinator at the time. These initiatives were to serve the Cleveland, Folwell, Hawthorne, Jordan and McKinley neighborhoods. The initiatives were:

  1. To continue to provide the free prostate screenings begun in 2004/2005. The goal was to reach an additional 200 men with the grant through “ongoing consistent community outreach.”
  2. To provide four additional Chronic Disease Self Management Training Programs, each running for six weeks for 20 participants, reaching a total of 80 people.
  3. To implement a Gang Violence Perpetration Program that would provide a week-long program each month for 10 youth and lead to a reduction in gang involvement. A total of 120 youth would be served during the one-year term of the grant.

During the early months of the grant, two Chronic Disease classes were held. Eight prostate screenings were held during the year. However, nothing was done with the Gang Violence Perpetration Program despite commitments from Hennepin County Probation to refer youth to the program, from North Memorial Hospital to provide tours of their Trauma Center and morgue, and from a panel of parents who had lost children to gang violence. What happened?

From February through September of 2006, $19,519.45 was spent legitimately on the Health Coordinator’s salary and on the activities identified in the grant. The remainder of the money went to other things. The use of the grant funds for other purposes began as early as May, 2006, when the board and community leaders took a class offered by St. Thomas University’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI). In May and June, these grant funds paid $257.04 for food for CLI participants and $210 for the availability of child care during CLI classes. Of the $210, $120 was paid to a board member. But this was just the beginning. From October 2006 through January 2008, only $306.14 was spent on legitimate grant activities ($206.14 on food for a prostate screening session and $100 to pay two youth to flyer the neighborhood for a cancer screening). Of the total grant, then, only $19,825.59 was spent as required by the grant.

Beginning in October, 2006, things really went crazy. Here’s how the money was spent:

  • Natasha Lamago, identified only as a “contractor” received $7,535 between 10/27/06 and 4/27/07. What did she do?
  • Todd Barnes was paid $900 per month as Health Outreach Consultant from January through July, 2007, for a total of $5,850. Did anyone see him do anything in regard to this grant?
  • Natasha Garcza was paid a total of $2,320 as Cluster Project Housing Coordinator from February 16th through March 30th. The grant did not mention anything about housing activities.
  • One-half of Jerry Moore’s salary as Executive Director (ED) was paid from grant funds between January and June of 2007. One quarter of his salary as Executive Director was paid from grant funds from July through November of 2007. A commensurate amount of payroll taxes were also paid on ED’s salary from April through November. Total grant funds used to pay the ED and employer payroll taxes were $21.232.46.
  • JACC had a policy of paying its full-time employees $200 per month in benefits, $150 for them to use toward their health insurance and $50 toward their cell phone bills. From February 2007 through January 2008, the Safety Coordinator’s $200 in benefits was charged to this grant despite the fact that his salary was fully covered by NRP Phase II funds for a Safety Coordinator. His work had nothing to do with this grant, yet it paid 100% of his benefits, which totaled $2,200.
  • The Executive Director’s benefits were also paid under this grant beginning in May 2007 at a rate of $200 per month that was identified as health insurance rather than health insurance and phone. Total grant funds spent were $2,000.
  • The Executive Director’s cell phone was covered separately, and JACC made payments directly to Sprint. The total between January and March was $657.68. (At that point in time, Sprint began using JACC’s debit card to pay the Executive Director’s cell phone bill–but that’s another concern.)
  • The Bean Scene received payments of $1,577.86, most of these identified as payments for community forums, something the grant did not provide funding for.
  • Payments to speakers at forums on racism were paid under this grant ($200).
  • Internet access for the JACC offices was covered for four months under the grant ($419.80)
  • Gift cards were purchased at Kohl’s just before Christmas for $200.
  • Other items were relatively small: business cards, a meal at a restaurant, meeting supplies.

As I look over this list, I am enormously saddened that we had an opportunity to make a real difference for the youth of our community and JACC chose to spend the money in ways the grant did not authorize. There have been numerous board meetings and community meetings where the JACC leadership has accused residents of this neighborhood of not caring for its youth. Yet it was JACC leadership that allowed this to happen.

Something to think about as our annual meeting approaches and we elect people to serve on our board of directors.


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