Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What should be the future of the Children & Youth Investment Trust

In last Sunday's Post, Councilman Tommy Wells, former chair of the Council committee with oversight over the CYIT, the quasi-city government organization that was the source of funds that were ultimately converted and used for personal aggrandizement by Councilman Harry Thomas, argues for the continuation of the organization. From "Undoing the damage to D.C.'s Children and Youth Investment Trust":

Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr.’s theft of more than $300,000 in city funds that were intended to help children was an outrageous and despicable act. But it does not justify disbanding the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., the public-private nonprofit that was the source of the stolen money.

Instead, Mr. Thomas’s embezzlement of grant dollars through intermediaries for his personal use spotlights the urgent need for a leadership change at the trust and for a full review by the mayor and D.C. Council of the qualifications of the trust’s board of directors and president. And we need to make sure future appointees fulfill their responsibilities to strictly control the program’s funds.

In the current issue of the Washington City Paper, Alan Suderman has an important piece, "Who Do You Trust?," about how the problems with the CYIT date almost to its beginning.

The organization was set up as a nonprofit so that it could receive donations from foundations and businesses. Typically, foundations and businesses cannot give monies directly to a city government.

But the interest of foundations and businesses giving monies to the CYIT instead of to beneficiary organizations directly was minimal, so the CYIT mostly received monies from the city government, and the CYIT board--appointed by the Mayor--and officials, subject to the persuasive powers of Councilmembers, allocated monies too often at the direction of elected officials, who were able in the case of Thomas to take the money for their own benefit.

Personally, I think that the CYIT should be disbanded, and if the Council or Executive Branch wants to provide monies to nonprofit organizations--which I have no problem with necessarily--the monies should only be appropriated through an open, public, transparent process, with an application and review process independent of extranormal involvement by Councilmembers or the Executive Branch.

Note that if the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, with fewer than 17,000 residents, can manage to have an open, public, transparent, application process for grants to nonprofit organizations, there is no excuse for DC to not have a comparable process. From the city website:

Small Community Grant Program Information
January 18, 2012
Information on the City's FY 2012 Small Community Grant Program is now available online. Projects must be completed by June 30, 2012. The application deadline is February 8, 2012.

One way to do that would be through a "participatory budgeting" process, where citizens are engaged in the process and shape the results in a significant fashion.

I can see giving the CYIT one more chance, if it shifts to a participatory budgeting process. Otherwise, disband the organization, because it is set up to be a creature of elected officials, even if there is a seeming arms length distance from public officials and the appointees who oversee the organization, and the employees who divvy up the funds.

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