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City Manager: Center For Closing The Health Gap To Be Held More Accountable

Center for Closing the Health Gap

The Center for Closing the Health Gap will have to change its ways when spending city taxpayers' dollars, according to an internal audit released by Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black Thursday morning.

Mayor John Cranley asked for the audit in March, after local news organizations – principally and the Cincinnati Enquirer – published investigative reports claiming the non-profit, headed by former mayor Dwight Tillery, may have been misusing much of the $750,000 in city money it received last year.

Closing the Health Gap's aim is to make health care and healthier lifestyles more accessible to African-Americans in Cincinnati. It has a pilot program operating in Mount Auburn.

Black made a number of recommendations in the 72-page audit, some of which he said have already been implemented since they were brought to light.

The recommendations include:

  • Moving the contract administration for the Center from the Cincinnati Health Department to the City Manager's office.
  • Making sure that the Center, and all other non-profits receiving city funds, will operate rules and regulations called "PartnerStat" to "operationalize and standardize the evaluation process for contractors receiving city funds.
  • With the current contract with the Center for Closing the Health Gap ending in September, Black said his office would work with the Center "to develop a more detailed, scope, budget, objectives, subcontractor objectives and evaluation process including return-on-investment metrics for the (Fiscal Year 18) contract.

Black also wrote in the audit about two sets of questionable invoices raised in the news reports, with the Center sending tax dollars to Black Agenda, an organization with a political agenda also headed by Tillery and money that was spent on consulting fees for Cradle Cincinnati, a Children's Hospital Medical Center program aimed at reducing infant mortality.
"Prior to the audit,  invoices related to Black Agenda were corrected by the CMO (City Manager's Office)," Black wrote. "Additionally, invoices related to Cradle Cincinnati will be reviewed and corrective action taken if deemed appropriate."

According to the Enquirer report, the Center spent more than $90,000 on consultants in 2016, and $500,000 in salaries and benefits for employees. All of that was city money.

In the audit, Black refers to the Center as "CHG."

Black said his office "has communicated with CHG about the need to ensure CHG staff paid with city funds are engaged solely in CHG work for the hours they are paid."

Finally, Black said his office "will determine the causes of contract oversight lapses and remedy with the assistance of Human Resources and Departmental leadership."

Cranley, who had asked for the audit, issued a short written statement through his office.

"The audit identifies several areas for improvement,'' Cranley said. "I am glad to see the city manager has already begun acting on the majority of the audit's recommendations."

On Friday, the day after the audit was released, Tillery, president and CEO of the Center, issued a written statement. 

"Despite the unfair and unbalanced media reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer and WCPO, the findings confirm what the Health Gap has contended all along: that while may be required in the City's internal administration of contracts with human service agencies, the Health Gap was in compliance with the City processes that have been in place over the past five years,'' Tillery's statement read in part. 

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.