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This letter is written in response to the item in Loose Lips titled “Need Not Apply” (4/13). The article outlined allegations against Connie Spinner, former executive director of the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., and myself, deputy mayor for children, youth, and families, that were taken from a confidential memorandum written by D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson. By way of background, Mayor Anthony A. Williams created the trust in 1999 with the support of Councilmembers Sandy Allen and Kevin Chavous. The trust’s mission is to administer funding to community-based organizations to provide out-of-school-time supports to children and youth of the District, particularly those in underserved areas.
Your article, in quoting Patterson’s letter, makes numerous allegations concerning the management of the trust that must be addressed and corrected. The information included in your article is based on half-truths and unfounded allegations. The author, Jonetta Rose Barras, made no attempt to contact me or other knowledgeable members of the Williams administration to substantiate any of the information contained in the letter that served as the source. This letter is an attempt to set the record straight and to reassure the community that the trust is doing important work and deserves the continued support of the entire community.
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The article alleges that the trust was “managed into a state of operating deficit” or near deficit, and that Spinner failed to inform the trust’s board about the financial status of the organization. In a response prepared by my office and submitted to former Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer, evidence is provided demonstrating that Spinner informed the board on numerous occasions about the organization’s financial situation. In fact, on March 29, 2000, Spinner and a trust staffer gave the board a presentation on the financial status of the trust. At the meeting, Spinner informed the board that funds received from DC Agenda and the Mott Foundation were exhausted. The trust used the Mott funds to cover day-to-day operations while awaiting the conveyance of $15 million from the District government. In the interim, the Department of Human Services awarded the trust a $250,000 grant in April 2000 to develop the infrastructure for the system that would support out-of-school-time programming.
Second, the article notes that “Spinner invested federal welfare funds in short-term certificates of deposit ‘in violation of any number of federal strictures…’” To address this matter, it must be understood that the original legislation establishing the trust designated $15 million in local reserve funding that the trust would use to provide subgrants to community-based organizations. Congress rejected the use of reserve dollars to fund the trust. As a result, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds were used to support the trust’s activities, since it was determined that those activities fell within one of the four TANF funding criteria. In July 2000, the trust deposited the TANF grant funds into a business checking account and no-penalty CDs with the Adams National Bank. The board was informed via e-mail on July 28, 2000, that the TANF grant had been received from the D.C. government. Spinner reiterated in the e-mail that she was seeking legal advice to ascertain whether having this large sum of money in an interest-bearing account violated federal statutes. In September 2000, the trust was informed that the District government should not have provided the entire grant amount in one single payment. In response, the trust immediately returned the funds to the Department of Human Services, including $50,534.30 in interest earnings.
Additionally, the article stated that, given permission from me as deputy mayor, the trust exceeded the council-mandated administrative expenditure cap of 5 percent. The facts are: (1) The original legislation establishing the trust was based on $15 million in local reserve funds; (2) when the reserve funds were not received, and the decision was made to go forward in support of the trust and its mission, TANF funding was identified; (3) due to expenses, revenue projections, and limited fundraising by the board, the trust requested to raise its spending cap from 5 percent to 9 percent given that reserve funding was no longer the funding source; and (4) in an opinion from the Office of the Corporation Counsel, raising the administrative cap was in keeping with TANF regulations, and since the “source” of funding had changed, the rules governing the cap had also changed. Further, a March 28, 2001, letter from Myrna Peralta, interim executive director of the trust, indicated that the trust had not spent to the 9 percent level. The board was seeking to get explicit support from the D.C. Council to raise the cap to the 9 percent level, because it was the board’s view that while the funding source permitted the increase, the spirit and intent of the council’s actions should be honored.
Finally, the article insinuates that $3 million was transferred to the District of Columbia Public Schools “honoring an agreement that had been made prior to her arrival.” But, because the trust did not receive local dollars to support its funding, the DCPS’s 21st Century Project did not receive funding from the trust. To suggest, by implication or explicitly, that $3 million was contributed to this effort is without foundation.
In all of this unfortunate political maneuvering, the true purpose of the trust is diminished and the good work it has begun in the District of Columbia on behalf of children is overshadowed. We must not lose sight of the larger visionthat all children deserve every opportunity to succeedand the trust is a pivotal element in achieving this vision, particularly in a community where the needs of children and youth have historically been an afterthought. While it is important to set the record straight on the trust’s financial status, it is particularly unfortunate that the trust is being used as a pawn for others to achieve their own political goals. These unfounded allegationsand such unbalanced reporting does not succeed in impugning my and Spinner’s characterssucceed only in the theft of children’s opportunities to reach out beyond their often miserable existence toward a brighter future.
Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, and Families